Mike Russell: Scotland's emergency Brexit bill will be 'properly scrutinised'


The Scottish Government's controversial alternative to crucial Brexit legislation will be properly scrutinised, the minister in charge has insisted.

Scottish Brexit Minister Mike Russell said while the procedures being put in place for the MSPs to examine the SNP administration's emergency legislation were "unusual", he stressed there was "enough time" for scrutiny.

Mr Russell spoke out ahead of a rare late night meeting of one of Holyrood's committees, with MSPs sitting from 5.45pm to consider the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill.

The Scottish Government has brought forward the legislation amid a stand-off over the return of devolved powers from Brussels following Britain's departure from the EU.

But with more than 230 amendments to the Bill lodged, MSPs will have to sit late into the night - with the Parliament also having earmarked more time on Wednesday morning for this if it is needed.

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The Continuity Bill is being rushed through Holyrood on a shortened timetable as emergency legislation, with the Scottish Government stating it has to be passed before the UK Government's EU Withdrawal Bill gets final approval.

Ministers in both Edinburgh and Cardiff have branded that legislation as being a Westminster "power grab".

Agriculture, fisheries, food labelling and public procurement are among 24 devolved policy areas the Downing Street wants to temporarily retain power over following the UK's exit from the EU, to put in place UK-wide frameworks.

Speaking about the Scottish Government's Bill, Mr Russell said: "I can confirm that as things stand the Government is of the view that it is necessary to proceed with this legislation.

"All along, the objective of the Government, and the Welsh Government has been to reach agreement on amendments to the UK Government's Withdrawal Bill. Sadly we haven't yet reached such an agreement."

The changes that the UK Government has put forward - without the agreement of Holyrood ministers - "unacceptably constrains devolved competence", Mr Russell argued.

He added: "I remain hopeful agreement can be reached, but we're not at that stage and this parliament needs to have a backstop. It needs to have this Bill.

"I recognise that the procedure for this bill has been unusual.

"But there is enough time for the Bill to be properly scrutinised and that is what will take place."

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Conservative MSP Adam Tomkins said the Scottish Government Bill was a "woeful piece of emergency legislation which will do nothing but bring this Parliament into disrepute".

With Holyrood's Presiding Officer having already ruled the Bill to be outside of the Parliament's legislative competence - something contested by the Scottish Government - Mr Tomkins argued "there are a number of provisions that are manifestly and straightforwardly incompatible with the requirements imposed on us in the Scotland Act".

He added: "It's not too late for the SNP to withdraw this Bill - it's bad law, we should abandon it and not enact it."

Scottish Conservatives have tabled the majority of amendments to the Bill, and a spokesman for First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "It would appear on the face of it that they have laid down a lot of amendments to take up a lot of time and we will see where deliberations get to this evening."