Scottish Devolution and Article 50

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 15th March 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Scottish Parliament/Scottish Government Liaison), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Devolved Government Relations) 4:30 pm, 15th March 2017

The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to hear that I will address that later in my speech.

Now we find ourselves about to leave the European Union, the Prime Minister is making the threat of removing competencies from Holyrood as they come back from Brussels; other than that, we do not really have any idea of what she is planning. Leaving the European Union means that the Scotland Act 1998 must be revisited, because it compels Scotland to comply with EU law. The clawing back of powers and competencies from Holyrood to Whitehall, as suggested by the Prime Minister, would also require amendments to that Act.

If Members want to understand exactly how much disentanglement there will be, they should ask the Commons Library, as I did. They will be told that there is a huge number of directives and regulations to look through and that to come up with a definitive figure, list or even idea of what is reserved and what remains devolved is, to all intents and purposes, a fool’s errand.

To give an example, there are 527 regulations under the environment, consumer and health sections alone, and there are a whole host of environmental regulations under other headings such as “energy”. I do not know whether the Scotland Office has been working to draw up a list—or the Wales Office or the Northern Ireland Office for that matter. It would be good to be told, but it is clear that there is an enormous amount of work to be done and an enormous amount of legislation to comb through. Sifting that, considering it, deciding where to lay it and working it out will need a new Scotland Act.

It is true that the Government could use section 30 of the 1998 Act further to reserve powers over those areas currently under EU control, but that would seem frankly perverse if the Act has to be amended in any case. That seems simple, but when I asked the Prime Minister last week whether she would consult the people of Scotland properly and seek the consent of the Scottish Parliament before making changes to the legislation that frames devolution, she seemed perplexed. Her answer to me was that she undertakes

“full discussions with the Scottish Government on…reserved matters and…where we are negotiating on behalf of the whole of the United Kingdom.”—[Official Report, 8 March 2017;
Vol. 622, c. 808.]

However, we discovered on Monday that that is simply not true. Scotland’s First Minister was clear that none of the devolved Administrations had heard a peep from the UK Government before the announcement that we are all being dragged out of the single market, in spite of that being the major part of the Scottish Government’s compromise proposal on Brexit.

There is a sweetheart deal for Nissan, but no discussion of Scotland’s needs—far less any movement to accommodate those needs. Membership of the single market is vital for Scotland’s exports, and essential to the exercise of the economic competencies of the Scottish Parliament and to the future of many Scottish businesses. An immigration system that offers EU citizens the right to come to Scotland to live, work, study and settle down is essential to our continuing to grow a population that is economically active and demographically sustainable, as was discussed in the recent Scottish Affairs Committee debate. Academic research and the excellent record of Scotland’s universities is under threat, because Brexit will cut them off from an enormous research funder and from the universities they co-operate with on the continent, not to mention the academics who come to Scotland from elsewhere in the EU.

The implications for Scotland of triggering article 50 are enormous and deep-seated and, whichever way things go, they will have a long half-life. We have heard the glib “Brexit means Brexit”, that it will be red, white and blue and that there will be no running commentary, but I am beginning to suspect that there is no running anything behind Whitehall’s firmly closed doors. It is time that the Government started to lay out what Brexit actually means in terms of implications for the people who live on these islands, rather than continuing use of tautology.