Ministers in London could press on with legislation on devolving EU powers even if Edinburgh and Cardiff fail to agree to deal
UK ministers could table their new offer on post-Brexit powers for Scotland and Wales in parliament next week even if the three governments fail to reach a deal, it has emerged.
Ministers from the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments are meeting in London on Thursday afternoon for a fresh round of talks to solve a long-running dispute over the sharing of the major powers that will be repatriated after Brexit.
UK government sources are now playing down the chances of a deal before Theresa May, the prime minister, meets Nicola Sturgeon and Carwyn Jones, the first ministers of Scotland and Wales, for inter-governmental talks next Wednesday that will be dominated by Brexit.
They remain deadlocked over the UK government’s insistence that up to 25 policy areas, including farming, fishing and food labelling, need to be controlled at UK level until common frameworks can be agreed between them.
Scottish and Welsh ministers say this amounts to a “power grab” and are refusing at this stage to accept a UK government amendment to the EU withdrawal bill, which would confirm that a large majority of EU powers will be handed directly to the devolved parliaments on Brexit day.
Mike Russell, the Scottish Brexit minister, has confirmed his government would accept the common frameworks but only if the amendment accepts Holyrood has to agree before they are implemented. UK sources say that amounts to a Scottish veto over UK policy.
Sources have confirmed a BBC report that the UK government could table its amendment in the Lords next week, regardless of a deal, in a bid to force Scottish and Welsh ministers into defending their stance.
Both devolved governments are pressing on with their own rival legislation at Holyrood and Cardiff Bay, home of the Welsh assembly, which would sidestep Westminster and repatriate EU powers into Scotland and Wales without a UK–wide deal.
Lord Wallace, the Liberal Democrat peer who served as the UK government’s Scottish law officer in the 2010 coalition government, said there was now an urgent need for both sides to publish the material at the centre of the dispute.
UK sources say ministers in London are prepared to do so, a step the Scottish government appears to support. Both sides claim that publication would prove their case.
“What we’ve got is on the one hand the UK government saying we’re prepared to devolve a considerable amount of powers back to Edinburgh; we’ve got the Scottish government saying yes we agree that there’s got to be UK common frameworks,” he told BBC Radio Scotland.
Wallace, a former deputy first minister of Scotland, said both sides distrusted each other but the dispute seemed to hinge on a very narrow point. “They can’t be that far apart, so I’m saying let’s see what they’re actually discussing.”
“I think it would be far better if we actually knew far more of what was going on,” he said. “We hear stories about what one side is proposing; what another is rejecting. This could do with a healthy dose of transparency.”