October 16, 2017 / 2:41 PM / a month ago

Scotland sees progress in Brexit talks with London but still objects to bill

EDINBURGH (Reuters) - The British and Scottish executives have made progress in talks on how to share powers after Brexit, they said on Monday, but Edinburgh still objects to the central government’s proposed law on withdrawing from the European Union.

Michael Russell (MSP) Minister for UK Negotiations on Scotland's Place in Europe talks during an interview in the Scottish Parliament Edinburgh, Scotland, Britain October 3 2017. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

Scotland, which has a semi-autonomous parliament and executive with powers over specific policy areas, has been seeking assurances from the United Kingdom’s central government over the status of those powers after Brexit.

The sides held talks in London on Monday along with representatives of Wales, which also has devolved institutions.

“We have been able to make some progress, including agreeing general principles that should ensure the role of the Scottish parliament in any potential UK- or GB-wide frameworks,” said Michael Russell, Scotland’s Brexit minister, after the talks.

The British government’s minister for Scotland, David Mundell, said the parties had moved in a positive direction.

“We have taken a major step today by agreeing a set of principles on how we will move forward with the powers returning to the UK from Brussels,” he said.

But Russell also said that the Scottish executive, which is run by the Scottish National Party, still objected to the Conservative British government’s proposed EU withdrawal bill currently making its way through the UK’s central parliament.

The bill, a pillar of the central government’s strategy for delivering an orderly Brexit, is designed to convert all existing EU laws into domestic ones so that there is clarity after the separation occurs in March 2019.

But it has raised hackles in Edinburgh and Cardiff, which currently control policy areas such as health, education, transport and agriculture, because it does not make clear what the status of those devolved powers will be after Brexit.

“We remain unable to recommend the Scottish Parliament consent to the EU Withdrawal Bill as currently drafted and will not be able to do so until the power grab is removed from the bill,” said Russell.

“I have and will continue to press for the amendments suggested by ourselves and the Welsh Government to be accepted, removing the power grab and providing a clear solution that respects devolution.”

Under Britain’s constitution, the UK parliament must seek consent from the Scottish and Welsh assemblies when legislating on policy areas that overlap with their devolved powers.

While Edinburgh and Cardiff do not have veto powers over the Brexit bill, ignoring their wishes would mark a new low in already tetchy relations with London.

That could give an incentive to the UK government to incorporate at least some of the Scottish and Welsh amendments to avoid the embarrassment of a constitutional clash.

Reporting by Elisabeth O'Leary; Writing by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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