Damian Green 'Cautiously Optimistic' After Brexit Talks With Scottish Ministers

25 September 2017, 14:19

Holyrood

First Secretary of State Damian Green has said he is "cautiously optimistic" talks can end the deadlock between the Scottish and UK governments over key Brexit legislation.

Mr Green and Scottish Secretary David Mundell held talks in London with Scotland's Deputy First Minister John Swinney and Holyrood Brexit Minister Mike Russell.

Prior to the meeting the First Secretary of State had challenged SNP ministers to "get serious" regarding the discussions over the European Union Withdrawal Bill - and he said afterwards that they had done.

Mr Green stated: "I am cautiously optimistic that we will be able to agree a way forward."

The Scottish Government has made clear that as it stands it can not give its formal approval to the Withdrawal Bill - UK Government legislation which would transpose EU law into British law but would see responsibilities in devolved areas initially transferred to Westminster.

Scottish and Welsh ministers have jointly put forward a series of changes they want to see made - saying if these are not made they can not recommend legislative consent.

And while the devolved administrations can not block Brexit, it would be unprecedented for Westminster to force through legislation against the wishes of both Scotland and Wales.

After discussions in the Cabinet Office broke up Mr Green said: "I said that it was time for the talks to get serious and today they have got serious.

'We had a positive and constructive meeting and we are now starting to get into the nitty gritty of the detail of how we make sure Brexit works for all parts of the UK."

He added: "We are in agreement that we do not want to damage the UK internal market that is so important to Scottish businesses and their customers.

"The key point is that we want to bring back these powers from the EU in a way that protects the UK market and also preserves the spirit and letter of the devolution settlement."

Mr Swinney said afterwards the talks had been "useful opportunity for an exchange of views between ourselves and the UK Government on Brexit and to discuss the current draft of the EU Withdrawal Bill.

But he remained adamant the Scottish Government viewed the legislation as a "blatant power grab" and it would need to be changed if SNP ministers are to recommend consent.

The Deputy First Minister said: "The discussions were constructive but we remain absolutely clear that, as things stand, we will not recommend to the Scottish Parliament that it gives its consent to the EU Withdrawal Bill.

"We made clear, we are not opposed in principle to UK-wide frameworks in certain areas - but this must be on the basis of agreement among equals, not imposed by Westminster.

"The Bill as currently drafted is impractical and unworkable. It is a blatant power grab which would take existing competence over a wide range of devolved policy areas, including aspects of topics like agriculture and fishing, away from Holyrood, giving them instead to Westminster and Whitehall.

"That means that unless there are serious and significant changes to the proposed legislation, we will not recommend that the Scottish Parliament give consent to the Bill."

Mr Swinney said Scottish ministers would "continue to talk to the UK Government so that the Bill is changed to protect devolution"

But he stated: "We emphasised to the First Secretary of State that the consent of the Scottish Parliament is required if there is to be agreement in this process.

"UK Ministers should be in no doubt - to override a vote of the Scottish Parliament and impose the EU Withdrawal Bill on Scotland would be an extraordinary and unprecedented step to take.

"The current proposals are a direct threat to the devolution settlement which the people of Scotland overwhelmingly voted for in 1997."