Devolution under attack by Tories, Scottish Brexit Minister claims

The Conservatives are undermining devolution, Scotland’s Brexit Minister has claimed.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove revealed plans for Westminster to spend Treasury funds on devolved areas including farming and education at the Scottish Conservative party conference in Aberdeen last week.

Leaving the 17th meeting of the Joint Ministerial Council (JMC) between the devolved administrations, Mike Russell said Mr Gove’s comments were “an attack” on devolution that had undermined negotiations.

SNP spring conference
SNP spring conference

He said: “You can’t have a senior UK Government minister freelancing on devolution without having a direct impact on discussions such as this and that is a matter which needed to be said today.

“I don’t believe it would be more money for Scotland, I don’t believe the Tories are in any way in a generous mood – it would be money taken away.”

Mr Russell said the Conservatives were trapped in an “increasingly toxic bubble” around Brexit negotiations and the Welsh and Scottish administrations were united in calling for clarity on where they stood.

“I’m very conscious of the way in which devolution is under attack,” he said.

“The UK Government needs to decide what their attitude is to the devolved administrations – do they support devolution or don’t they?

“It’s really difficult to make progress on any of the issues unless they’re prepared to say that and that’s I point I’ve made very strongly, echoed of course by the Welsh First Minister today.”

Welsh Brexit Minister Jeremy Miles, who was also in the JMC negotiations, agreed.

He reiterated that “devolution isn’t just about what happens in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – it’s about the UK Government and Whitehall changing how it behaves as well”.

Mr Miles added: “I had some very specific asks about involving the Welsh Government and the other devolved administrations in the future discussions around Brexit and in the negotiations with the EU.

“We haven’t had a yes to that, we haven’t had a no to that, so I hope those points have landed and the UK Government will take those away.”

Scottish Conservatives’ party conference
Scottish Conservatives’ party conference

Scottish Secretary David Mundell defended the JMC meeting as “a valuable opportunity” for “a detailed but private update on exactly what’s happening” around Brexit for the devolved administrations.

He said: “There are things we don’t agree on that are fundamental.

“Nicola Sturgeon wants to overturn both the 2014 and the 2106 referendum results, whereas we’re committed to delivering on them – so we’re not going to agree on that.

“Today’s meeting as ever recognises a lot of valuable work going on behind the scenes … and the role of the Scottish and Welsh administrations will play in the next phase of negotiations.”