The Scottish parliament has voted against Theresa May’s Brexit legislation by a large margin, putting the UK on the brink of a major constitutional dispute.
Holyrood rejected the UK government’s EU withdrawal bill by 93 votes to 30 on Tuesday after Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Scottish Greens backed Nicola Sturgeon’s decision to oppose proposals on post-Brexit power sharing set out in clause 11 of the bill.
The vote is not legally binding but it will force the prime minister to make a high-risk decision to impose those power-sharing plans on Scotland or make further concessions to the Scottish government to avoid a crisis.
Imposing powers on Scotland would be unprecedented and fuel Sturgeon’s demands for a second independence referendum, potentially providing the Scottish National party with a further justification for staging one.
The two governments have been at loggerheads for months over how to manage 24 EU powers that will return to the UK after Brexit, including over state aid for industry, genetically modified crops policy, fishing quotas and farm subsidies, after ministers in London made a series of concessions brokered by the Scottish Conservatives.
Both governments agree those policies should operate uniformally across the UK, shared between the four governments in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. The UK says it will consult the Scottish government on all changes to those policies, and try to seek agreement.
Sturgeon, the first minister and SNP leader, has decided that consultation is not enough, and insists that her government or Holyrood should be given the legal power to block any changes they disagree with. UK ministers have rejected this stance as an unacceptable veto.
With the EU withdrawal bill due for its final vote in the Commons within weeks, May is running out of time to reach a deal before it becomes law.
Sturgeon told an audience in London on Monday it was “three minutes to midnight”. She said: “What happens after tomorrow, the ball will be very much in the UK government’s court.
“They have a decision to make as to whether they are going to ignore the views of the Scottish parliament or listen to those views and try very hard to get a deal and to close the gap that remains between us.”
The UK government and Scottish Tories have so far refused to offer any further concessions after the Welsh government dropped its opposition to the bill and accepted the power-sharing plans on offer.
The Welsh deal in turn led the House of Lords to endorse the UK stance, increasing the likelihood the measures will be passed by the Commons.
Tory sources indicate that May is likely to push the legislation through the Commons without Scottish parliament consent, and hope that the UK supreme court will rule in her favour after a potentially crucial hearing on the Scottish parliament’s powers over Brexit in July.
As the Guardian revealed in March, the Westminster government has asked the supreme court to quash the Scottish parliament’s rival legislation on Brexit, which was introduced by Holyrood this year in case the two governments failed to reach a deal on power sharing.
David Lidington, the Cabinet Office minister and de facto deputy prime minister, told Richard Leonard, the Scottish Labour leader, that the UK would not allow one devolved administration to veto arrangements the others wanted. “We have always been clear that it is not right that one part of the UK could hold a veto over all the others when it comes to, for example, protecting the vital common market of the whole of the UK,” Lidington said. Leonard is attempting to broker cross-party talks at Holyrood to agree a deal. Lidington told the Labour leader he would welcome and consider “any practical variations [to the bill] that you have may have”.
Source : The Guardian