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Time running out for deal on Brexit Bill, Scottish Government warns

Ministers at Holyrood are pressing for changes to be made to the EU Withdrawal Bill – but are clear ‘time is running short’.

Brexit Secretary David Davis is due to host talks in London on Thursday in a bid to resolve the stalemate between Holyrood and Westminster over the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.

And ahead of those discussions the Scottish Government has warned it will not back down on the crucial issue of the Bill’s impact on devolution.

Ministers in both the Scottish and Welsh administrations have repeatedly described the UK government’s legislation a “power grab” – with a spokesman for Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon making clear their stance has not shifted.

He stated: “Obviously we have made clear consistently that we are intent on protecting the existing devolution settlement and we’re not prepared to sign up to a deal that jeopardises or cuts across the existing devolution settlement. That’s the state of play.

“Our position is exactly as outlined before, that all devolved powers exercised at European level must be devolved here.”

Scottish Brexit Secretary Mike Russell described the most recent talks, which took place in Edinburgh at the start of February, as “very frustrating”

UK Government amendments to the legislation, which had been promised when it was before MPs in the Commons, did not transpire, meaning any changes will now have to be made in the Lords.

Ms Sturgeon’s spokesman said: “We’re in a situation where the UK Government promised they would lodge an amendment or amendments regarding the key issues at stake, that promise wasn’t met, the deadline slipped and the EU Withdrawal Bill left the Commons and went into the Lords.

“Weeks and months have passed and there is still no sign of the action that was promised to try to resolve this.

“We’re still talking, we’re still intent on being as cooperative as possible, but time is running short and we haven’t made the progress so far that we need to see.”

The Bill was brought forward to transfer European legislation in UK law after Brexit, but both the Scottish and Welsh governments have spoken out against clause 11, which transfers devolved EU powers to Westminster in the first instance – something the Tory Government insists is necessary to allow common frameworks to be set up across the UK.

With the issue one of several to be resolved before Britain leaves the European Union in March 2019, Ms Sturgeon’s spokesman stressed that “clearly time is of the essence” for the UK Government to make changes.

“Time is very short if we are going to get this wrapped up,” he said.

“We’ve made clear a continuity bill is one avenue that we could go down, but as things stand we are still talking to the UK Government about the EU Withdrawal Bill and trying to make it fit for purpose.”

Mr Russell, who will represent the Scottish Government in Thursday’s talks, has already signalled that its proposed EU Continuity Bill could be introduced in February if necessary to ensure Scottish law is prepared for Brexit.

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