FM: EU Exit Bill "Unacceptable"

14 November 2017, 19:42 | Updated: 14 November 2017, 19:44

Sturgeon May outside Downing Street

Nicola Sturgeon has told Theresa May that the EU Withdrawal Bill is not acceptable to the Scottish Government in its current form.

Speaking after talks at 10 Downing Street, the Scottish First Minister said that no agreement on the way forward for Brexit was reached, but held out prospects of differences being ironed out in the weeks to come.

The devolved administrations of both Scotland and Wales have branded the legislation - which began its committee stage in the House of Commons on Tuesday - a "power grab", as it would return responsibilities in areas such as agriculture from Brussels to London.

Downing Street said that the Prime Minister told Ms Sturgeon that her priority was "to provide certainty to businesses and people both in Scotland and across the country, as well as protecting our UK internal market".

The Scottish First Minister characterised the 45 minutes of talks as "constructive and cordial".

But she added: "I made very clear, as the Scottish Government has done consistently, that the Withdrawal Bill as it stands would not be acceptable and we would not be able to recommend approval of that.

"That remains the position, but hopefully having had the opportunity to air the concerns that we have in more detail, we will be able to see progress in the weeks to come.

Ms Sturgeon added: "While we didn't reach agreement, I think we developed a better understanding of each others' positions.

"I made clear that the Scottish Government wants to find agreement on the Withdrawal Bill. We oppose Brexit but we understand withdrawal legislation is necessary, so we want to find agreement.

"But I also made clear what our bottom lines are on that Bill. Discussions will continue and hopefully we can reach some points of agreement in the weeks to come."

In discussions on Brexit, Downing Street said the PM told Ms Sturgeon that "it remains her priority to provide certainty to businesses and people both in Scotland and across the country, as well as protecting our UK internal market".

A spokesman added: "They spoke about progress in agreeing principles on common frameworks at the recent Joint Ministerial Committee, and the Prime Minister reiterated that as powers are repatriated from Brussels back to Britain there will be a significant increase in the decision-making powers for the Scottish Government and other devolved administrations.

"The Prime Minister encouraged the Scottish Government to continue to work with counterparts to secure the best outcome for the people of Scotland and the whole of the UK."

The pair also discussed the recent wave of allegations of improper conduct and sexual harassment in politics north and south of the border, both agreeing such behaviour was "completely unacceptable", said Number 10.

"They agreed to work collaboratively to ensure that the right systems are in place to protect and support those working across the UK's parliamentary institutions," said a spokesman.

Ms Sturgeon said that Mrs May's decision to put the date and time of Brexit onto the face of the Withdrawal Bill was not "sensible".

"I don't think it is a sensible move to put the date of exit in legislation," said the First Minister.

"I think looking at how this process has unfolded over the past few months, the lesson of all of it should be not to back the UK further and further into a corner - and it strikes me that a move like that is narrowing room for manoeuvre and flexibility and at this stage of negotiations, I don't think that is the right thing to do."

Asked about sexual harassment, she said: "We discussed that at some length, we shared our experiences in terms of what the different parties are doing to try to put the right procedures in place, what our two parliaments are doing, agreed that it would be useful for parliaments and indeed the governments to keep in dialogue about that.

"But we also agreed - and for me, this is the most important aspect of this as well - having robust procedures in place is important, it's the underlying culture of sexual harassment that has to change and that I think is what we all hope will come out of the experiences of the last few weeks."