Scottish Government sets out opposition to PM’s Brexit deal

It will recommend Holyrood does not consent to the UK Government's Withdrawal Agreement Bill.

Michael Russell, Constitutional Secretary, has written to Steve Barclay outlining opposition. Getty Images/STV
Michael Russell, Constitutional Secretary, has written to Steve Barclay outlining opposition.

The Scottish Government has outlined its opposition to Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal and will recommend Holyrood does not consent to the UK Government’s Withdrawal Agreement Bill.

MPs passed the legislation in the Commons on Friday, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson commanding a sizeable majority at Westminster.

It sets out the arrangements for the United Kingdom’s departure from the EU.

In a letter to the UK’s secretary of state for exiting the EU Steve Barclay, Scotland’s constitutional relations secretary Mike Russell said the people of Scotland had voted “clearly and decisively” against leaving the EU.

Mr Russell said the Scottish Government “cannot recommend” to the Scottish Parliament that it gives its legislative consent to the proposals.

A legislative consent memorandum has been tabled by the Scottish Government at Holyrood.

Sometimes referred to as Sewel motions, they arise out of the convention that the UK Parliament will not normally legislate on a devolved matter without the consent of the relevant devolved legislature.

It is rare for consent to be withheld with only nine having been rejected – seven in Wales and one each in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

This is out of more than 320 legislative consent motions that have been tabled.

Legally, the UK Parliament can seek Royal Assent for any Bill, even if a devolved legislature withholds consent for its provisions.

The memorandum reads: “The Scottish Government believes that the best option as a whole, and for Scotland, is to remain in the EU, as voted for by the people of Scotland.

“This position has been reinforced by the result of the recent UK general election where 88% of seats in Scotland were won by candidates who endorsed remaining in the EU.

“There is no democratic mandate for withdrawal from the EU in Scotland and therefore the Scottish Government cannot support a Bill that implements the exit of Scotland, as part of the UK, from the EU.

“It cannot recommend that the Scottish Parliament consent to a Bill to give effect to an agreement which it considers will do significant damage to Scotland.”

It adds: “In addition the Scottish Government cannot consent to a Bill which markedly increases the risk of a withdrawal without a longer term deal at the end of 2020.

“The Scottish Government deeply regrets that the timetable for a Bill implementing such a significant change to the UK and Scotland does not provide the opportunity for proper parliamentary scrutiny in either the UK or Scottish parliaments.

“Given the consequences of the agreement which this Bill will implement, which were not endorsed by the people in Scotland, the Scottish Government recommends that the Scottish Parliament should not consent to the Bill and should indicate its opposition to Scotland’s withdrawal, as part of the UK, from the EU and to the Withdrawal Agreement.

“The Scottish Government does not therefore intend to lodge a legislative consent motion in relation to the Bill.”

In his letter to Mr Barclay, Mr Russell wrote: “If there has been any lesson from the last three years, it is we should take time to achieve the right kind of future partnership.

“The UK Government should work to build consensus, with the full involvement of the devolved administrations, rather than rush to impose its own narrow views on everyone else.”

He added: “The Scottish Government has lodged a legislative consent memorandum with the Scottish Parliament explaining the reasons behind its decision.

“This is expected to be debated by MSPs early in the new year.”

A spokesman for the UK Government said: “The Prime Minister has delivered a great new deal that works for all parts of the UK.

“It is disappointing that the Scottish Government has so far refused to recommend legislative consent and are instead using this process to signal their opposition to Brexit.

“Throughout the Brexit process, we have regularly engaged with the devolved administrations and we will continue to do so.”