Nicola Sturgeon reopened the Brexit battle with Westminster last night after accusing Prime Minister Theresa May’s government of attempting to seize back power from Holyrood.
The First Ministers of Scotland and Wales threatened to withhold their consent for the EU Repeal bill after it was confirmed that no powers will automatically be passed from the EU to devolved administrations.
Scottish Labour said it would also oppose the bill “unless there is a ‘clear presumption of devolution.”
The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will transfer EU regulations into British statute from the day Brexit takes effect.
The Bill will repeal the European Communities Act 1972 which took Britain into the EU. It will remove the supremacy of Brussels law, convert EU law into UK law and create temporary powers to correct laws that will not operate appropriately after Brexit.
Westminster, Brexit Secretary David Davis said it would give the UK “maximum certainty, continuity and control”.
But in a joint statement, Nicola Sturgeon and her Welsh counterpart Carwyn Jones called the bill an “attack on the founding principles of devolution”.
They said: “Today’s publication of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is the first test as to whether the UK government is serious about such an approach. It is a test it has failed utterly.
“We have repeatedly tried to engage with the UK government on these matters, and have put forward constructive proposals about how we can deliver an outcome which will protect the interests of all the nations in the UK, safeguard our economies and respect devolution.
“Regrettably, the bill does not do this. Instead, it is a naked power-grab, an attack on the founding principles of devolution and could destabilise our economies.”
Scottish Secretary David Mundell said the arrangement was “transitional” and that the bill was “not a power grab but a power bonanza for the Scottish Parliament.”
Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Westminster Leader, said: “The Bill does nothing to protect the interests of Scotland and the other devolved administrations – and is final confirmation of a Westminster power grab.
“Before the EU referendum, the Leave campaign repeatedly said that significant new powers would automatically come to the Scottish Parliament – and David Mundell and others have repeatedly assured us since the vote that more powers will be coming to the Scottish Parliament – so where are they?
“Once again, David Mundell has shown himself to be the Cabinet’s man in Scotland, rather than Scotland’s man in the Cabinet.
“Mr Mundell’s description of the bill as a powers “bonanza” is quite frankly ludicrous – this is a Westminster power grab laid bare, and his attempts to defend the indefensible do him no credit.
“All of us – whether we voted Leave or Remain – want Brexit to be a success – and that is why the SNP will continue to push for the Bill to be amended to ensure it properly accounts for Scotland’s distinct interests as the UK leaves the EU.
“The Single Market is absolutely vital to Scotland’s economy, jobs and our living standards – and the UK Government must change course from the extreme Brexit that it is pursuing.
“Until the UK government meaningfully engages with the devolved administrations and publishes a detailed economic analysis of the impact that leaving the single market or a no deal scenario will have, then the SNP has no choice but to oppose a second reading of the Bill in order to get answers from a government that has sought to evade scrutiny at every opportunity.” Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said: “This Bill may have changed name yet again, but that can’t disguise Theresa May’s attempt to force a Brexit on the UK that risks jobs and livelihoods.
“Labour will seek a clear and binding commitment to repatriate powers in devolved areas to the Scottish Parliament. We will insist this must be done in a short, but achievable timeframe.
“Labour believes there should be a jobs-first Brexit; not one that allows the Tories to erode workplace rights, consumer rights or environmental standards.
“If there is not a clear presumption of devolution, as well as the other demands set out by Keir Starmer, Labour has been clear that our MPs will not support this Bill in the Commons.”
Earlier Ms Sturgeon described her meeting with EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier as “helpful”.
The first minister held a 45 private discussion with Mr Barnier in Brussels ahead of second round of talks between the UK and EU beginning on Monday.
Ms Sturgeon has accepted that Mr Barnier will only negotiate with the UK government but she wanted to impress on him her desire to protect Scotland’s economic interests.
After the meeting she said: “We have always been clear that this is not about holding separate Scottish negotiations – it is for the UK as the member state to negotiate with the EU – and as such we will continue to work hard to influence the UK position.
“However, meetings like this are helpful in developing a mutual understanding between the Scottish government and the EU as these vital negotiations gather pace.”
The First Minister is seeking a broader agreement against a hard Brexit and is look for support from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Carwyn Jones, the Welsh First Minister, who also met Mr Barnier.
Mr Barnier said: “I have always made clear that I will listen to different points on view in the British debate.
“Of course, I will only negotiate with the UK government.”
Ms Sturgeon believes that building a consensus against an extreme Brexit outside the single market, would help protect Scotland’s interests.
There is not thought to be any plan for holding separate Scottish negotiations and her advisers are understood to have accepted that the EU will only negotiate with the UK.
The First Minister believes therefore that achieving agreement among UK leaders is the best approach.
The UK government has offered to consult the nations and regions but Prime Minister Theresa May rejected Ms Sturgeon’s demand for the Scottish government to have a seat at the Brexit talks, and for Scotland to retain its single market membership even if the rest of the UK leaves.
Mr Barnier will seek some clarification on the “divorce bill” which is estimated at between €60bn to €100bn (£53bn to £89bn).
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson earlier this week said that the EU could “go whistle” for any “extortionate” final payment.
Scottish Labour’s Europe spokesperson Lewis Macdonald said: “In contrast to both Nicola Sturgeon and Theresa May, Michel Barnier has been nothing but open and transparent about these Article 50 negotiations.
“He has published a timetable for negotiations and has clearly set out what the EU wants to achieve. Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon have done nothing of the sort and have shrouded the entire process in secrecy and uncertainty.
“Unlike the Tories, Labour wants a jobs-first Brexit that will prioritise the economy, jobs and living standards – and that is what Jeremy Corbyn will outline when he meets Mr Barnier.
“Nicola Sturgeon should join this fight for a fair Brexit, rather than simply using this process to agitate for independence.”
Mr Blackford yesterday called on the First Secretary of State Damian Green to confirm if the UK government will repatriate all powers from Europe.
While the UK government has said Scotland would not see a diminution of powers, Mr Blackford said there has been no detail on the further powers Scotland can expect to receive, or if the UK Government intend to amend schedule 5 of the Scotland Act, to change any aspect of the devolved competencies which were approved by the Scottish referendum in 1997.
Mr Blackford said: “The UK government needs to provide clarity over the repatriation of powers currently with the EU and which should go to the devolved nations.
“People in Scotland deserve a commitment from the UK Government to categorically rule out the threat of a Westminster power grab of devolved powers at any time as a result of the Repeal Bill and the UK Government should give a cast iron guarantee that devolved powers will be increased.
“While the First Secretary of State confirmed Scotland will not see a diminution of powers, we have no details on whether the powers which fall under devolved competencies will return to Scotland.
“He also refused to confirm if the UK Government will amend schedule 5 of the Scotland Act, to change any aspect of the devolved competencies which were approved by the Scottish referendum in 1997- on a larger majority than the EU referendum.”