Why has the Scottish Office Supported a Poison Pill for the Brexit Bill?

Home Affairs
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
Jon Stanley

AT LONG LAST we have seen the first draft of the Great Repeal Bill. It was always going to be sport deciphering the jargon and legalese and sure enough it was worth the patience.

There is a poison pill in the bill that prevents automatic devolution of returned competencies from the EU - contrary to the Scotland Act. 

A letter deftly inked by the Secretary of State for Scotland has gone out to all MSPs in Holyrood to ask for their support for legislative changes to the Scotland Act. It resembles a paint-by-numbers on how to stop Brexit, whether one likes that or not.

You read that right. Legislative changes have been proposed to the Scotland Act as a condition to see Brexit through. 

For those unfamiliar with the Scotland Act it works on the premise that powers are devolved to Scotland unless specifically reserved to the UK. The Scottish Parliament is stacked with the SNP, Labour and Tory MSPs who almost all adore the EU and do not want us to go. 

Changing the Scotland Act requires their consent according to the Sewel Convention that the Scottish Office has specified in the letter. Two things jump out here. 

•  The first is that there was no need for any legislative changes to the Scotland Act before we leave the EU. 

•  The second is that since Feburary the Conservatives have been hinting very strongly that agriculture would not be devolved automatically, contrary to the Scotland Act.

Ruth Davidson went as far as to say this would lead to an "almighty political row" back in February in the Scottish Farmer which begs the question who benefits from an elected, pitched battle in Scotland?  

I'm a sceptic which is why I'm a Eurosceptic. I think by plan or by accident the British Government is being led down an alley that only the locals know, and it looks to me like a trap is opening up for the Prime Minister.

To propose a bill that legislates specifically for a loophole to let the SNP veto Brexit is bizarre. It breeches the 2017 manifesto commitment for the UK to leave the EU and tees up a constitutional crisis over the future of Scotland... yet again.

If the bill passed unamended and Holyrood then blocked legislative changes the PM would have to resign. It is untenable that passing legislation that could wreck Brexit would allow her position to remain as premier. Fear not though, for there is time. If the UK government wishes to retain these powers instead of immediately legislating for them they can introduce such a proposal as a separate, very short bill just like the bill that "allowed" us to trigger Article 50 back in March.

There is absolutely no reason why, according to the Secretary of State for Scotland, that such legislative changes are essential to the UK leaving the European Union. So de-link them. 

The reservation of powers is an entirely domestic affair and one that requires a lot more thinking before decisions are taken. The Scottish Government is more than capable of delaying powers devolved to it for many years, as it has done with welfare powers only recently. 

That EU competencies be legally devolved to the Scottish government does not mean the UK could not agree to carry out these duties during any transition period post 2019. 

This poison pill is real - and it is toxic - and we are watching it being slipped into our tea. These proposed legislative changes are not necessary for Brexit and will create an instant backlash from the SNP and breathe fire into Labour's commitment for more powers for Scotland.

Who benefits indeed?