Mike Russell to hold cross-party talks after Supreme Court Brexit Bill ruling
The Scottish Government will hold talks with opposition parties on how to proceed after the UK’s highest court ruled part of its alternative Brexit legislation was outside Holyrood’s powers.
Constitutional Relations Secretary Mike Russell will raise the issue with the other parties in the Scottish Parliament.
Most had voted in favour of the legislation, which was then challenged by the UK Government.
The Tories, who opposed the legislation – put forward by Scottish ministers as an alternative to the EU Withdrawal Act – instead said the Bill should be scrapped.
Judges at the Supreme Court said while the Scottish Bill “as a whole would not be outside the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament” a key section of it could limit Westminster’s ability to make laws for Scotland.
The Tories’ constitutional spokesman Adam Tomkins said: “Today’s Supreme Court ruling is a clear, unambiguous and of course unanimous judicial vindication for those of us who considered that the SNP’s so-called continuity bill unlawful.”
Mr Tomkins claimed the Supreme Court “has eviscerated the Bill, leaving it in tatters”.
But Scotland’s top law officer, Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC, told him: “It’s clear that at the time this Parliament passed the bill, it was – in its entirety with the exception of one section – within the competence of this Parliament.”
He told MSPs the EU Withdrawal Act – which was passed by Westminster but which the Scottish Parliament did not consent to – had subsequently imposed “new limits on the legislative competence of this Parliament”.
These mean other sections of the Scottish Government’s alternative Brexit Bill – the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill – may “not now become law”, Mr Wolffe said.
Mr Russell branded that an “act of constitutional vandalism” by the UK Government
He said: “For the first time ever, UK law officers delayed an act of the Scottish Parliament from becoming law by referring it to the Supreme Court.
“Then the UK Government, for the first time ever, invited the UK Parliament to pass a Bill which they knew would cut the powers of the Scottish Parliament without its consent.
“The UK Government changed the rules of the game midway through the match.”
He added: “This is an act of constitutional vandalism but that does not take away from the fact this judgment makes clear MSPs were perfectly entitled to prepare Scotland’s laws for Brexit at the time this Bill was passed.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the ruling was “an important vindication” for her Government.
She tweeted the Supreme Court had found “with the exception of just one section, the Scottish Continuity Bill WAS within @ScotParl competence at point of introduction”.
Scottish Secretary David Mundell said the verdict showed the legal challenge had been “the right thing” for the UK Government to do.
He said: “The Supreme Court has provided much-needed legal clarity that the Continuity Bill goes beyond the powers of the Scottish Parliament.
“This demonstrates clearly that it was the right thing for the UK Government to refer the Bill to the Court.”
He added: “It is now for the Scottish Government to consider how to proceed and we hope Holyrood will take a pragmatic approach and work constructively with us as we leave the EU.”
Mr Wolffe confirmed the Scottish Government “accepts the judgement of the Supreme Court in its entirety”.
He added it “will wish to consider the terms of the judgment carefully” and said Mr Russell “intends to have discussions with all parties across the Parliament before determining the way forward”.
The legal challenge to the legislation was brought by the Attorney General and the Advocate General for Scotland – the UK Government’s senior law officers – who referred the Bill to the Supreme Court to seek legal certainty “in the public interest”.
They acted after SNP ministers in Edinburgh introduced their own legislation to counter the “power grab” in the European Withdrawal Act, which they claimed would result in responsibilities going to London rather than Edinburgh after Brexit.
Announcing the decision, Supreme Court president Lady Hale said one section of the Bill was outside the Scottish Parliament’s powers because it would have the effect of making UK law “conditional” upon the consent of Scottish Ministers.
She said the UK Parliament’s European Union (Withdrawal) Act “changes the legal landscape” and is “protected from modification”.
Lady Hale said this prevents the Scottish Bill from “amending, superseding, disapplying or repealing provisions of that Act”, and said therefore parts of it would be “outside the legislative competence” of Holyrood.