Constitution Secretary Mike Russell MSP said the new Bill will mean, on devolved matters, Scottish law can keep in line with those in Europe “when appropriate and practicable to do so”. But the Scottish Government’s Chief Constitution Manager admitted she could struggle to see how the published legislation would work.
The UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Continuity) (Scotland) Bill will provide for continuity of provision that would otherwise be lost with Brexit.
The discretionary power will come into effect after the transition period ends on December 31.
The Bill also includes provisions to ensure EU environmental principles and governance can continue in Scotland.
Part of this would see a new body called Environmental Standards Scotland set up to ensure compliance with environmental law.
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These new laws will also make it much easier for Scotland to rejoin the EU after the country gained independence from the UK, should the Scottish people wish to do so, Mr Russell said.
Scottish Green MSP Mark Ruskell claimed the Scottish Government had reassurance from the EU Commission that the new laws could allow Scotland to realign with the EU to enable a “smooth path to re-accession.”
But Emma Lopinska, Scottish Government’s Constitutional Policy Manager today at Holyrood’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee denied this.
She added at Holyrood’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee: “The power to align is a discretionary power so it’s not about maintaining absolute alignment with the EU on every subject.
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Michael Russell spoke about the Bill in Holyrood recently
“We couldn’t really do that because some of the legislation that comes out of the EU is in reserved areas so the Scottish Parliament cannot legislate.
“We have to recognise there’s a lot of EU legislation that only makes sense if you are an EU member state.”
Ms Lopkinska stressed a variety of factors including economic and financial factors would have to be taken into consideration as well as a potential deal with the UK and the EU.
She added: “This bill isn’t about the Scottish ministers having to align everywhere.
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“I don’t think I could say that this bill is what will enable us to remain entirely aligned with the EU so that we can become a member state.”
Referring to the proposed UK internal market bill which would create an efficient trade system between all four UK nations post-Brexit, SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson asked whether any laws Scotland puts forward could force Westminster to work with Holyrood.
He said: “The White Paper talks about accepting and respecting standards set by other jurisdictions.
“If Scotland is the first mover to lay some legislation in a particular area, whether that then legislatively forces the UK government to work within what Scotland has set.
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“I’m leaving aside, of course, the Westminster view of the overriding primacy of Parliament and that they can basically do what they like.
“But in terms of how they are tackling this, is that how it would work or is it your view that we would always have to fall in behind what the UK government does.”
Ms Lopinska responded by saying that the UK Government’s “proposals are only proposals”.
She stressed they “would have to look at the detail of any bill” to understand how the Scottish Parliament would be constrained by it.
The actions have put pressure on the SNP
Ms Lopkinska stressed the UK internal market bill wasn’t “necessary” claiming there needs to be “proper functioning on intergovernmental relations” established.
“We would oppose any UK internal market bill” claiming it may “not be consented to.”
The Scottish Government’s Constitution Secretary criticised Boris Johnson’s Westminster Government for what he claimed was a lack of engagement with the devolved UK nations over the Brexit deadline.
Mr Russell added: “It is completely unacceptable that Scotland has been taken out of the EU but this Bill will enable us, in devolved areas at least, to ‘keep pace’ with Europe, when appropriate and practicable to do so.
“It is required as a direct result of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, and is more urgent because of the UK Government’s reckless refusal to ask for an extension to the Brexit transition period.”
“The Bill’s proposals on environmental principles and governance will also help us to maintain high standards, in line with the EU, in Scotland.”
However, Murdo Fraser MSP, Scottish Tories Constitution spokesman, said: “This is a power grab by the SNP – taking powers away from Holyrood so they can hand them to Brussels.
“It is at best a distraction from their failures in government and Ms Lopinska has rightly seen right through it.
It comes amid surging support for independence
“Nicola Sturgeon should be working with the UK Government to rejuvenate Scotland’s economy and protect jobs.
“Rather than focusing on post-Covid recovery, improving education or restarting NHS services, she looks to create constitutional grievance.”
But a Scottish Government source told Express.co.uk: “There is only one power grab being attempted – and that is the one the Tories are mounting on the Scottish Parliament, which we will oppose tooth and nail.
“But Murdo Fraser’s hysterical comments simply betray how panicked the Tories are – they can see support for independence soaring and they have no idea how to stem that rising tide.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford had previously written to Boris Johnson to request an extension to the Brexit process earlier this summer.
Ms Sturgeon believes that more time is required to complete negotiations and support businesses through recovery from the coronavirus pandemic however Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove confirmed there would be no extension beyond 31st December.