January 9, 2018 / 9:02 PM / 7 months ago

UK pledges to amend EU withdrawal bill, soothe Scottish devolution worries

EDINBURGH (Reuters) - Britain’s government will amend the European Union withdrawal bill in time for it to win backing from Scotland’s pro-independence devolved administration, Britain’s Scotland minister said on Tuesday.

David Mundell and David Davis, Britain's Secretary of State for Scotland and Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, arrive in Downing Street for a cabinet meeting in London, October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah Mckay

“I can confirm today that amendments to Clause 11 of the bill will be brought forward in the House of Lords (Britain’s upper legislative chamber), allowing for further discussions to take place between the UK government and Scottish government,” David Mundell said in a statement.

Clause 11 has raised hackles in Scotland and Wales, two of the United Kingdom’s four nations, because it specifies that powers currently held in Brussels return to Britain’s central government in the first instance, although some of them are currently the remit of Britain’s devolved administrations.

With a pledge to amend the proposed law, Mundell may help to soothe fears that devolved powers will be watered down by Brexit.

“Our commitment to improve the bill remains absolute. The most important thing is that the changes we bring forward command support on all sides,” he said.

“I remain confident we can reach a place where the Scottish parliament will give legislative consent to this vitally important piece of legislation.” 

The bill, part of Prime Minister Theresa May’s strategy for delivering an orderly Brexit, is designed to convert all existing EU laws into domestic ones so that there is clarity after the separation occurs in March 2019.

But it has grated in Edinburgh and Cardiff, which currently control policy areas such as health, education, transport and agriculture, because it does not make clear what the status of their devolved powers will be once Brexit happens.

Both Welsh and Scottish administrations have said that, as it stands, they will not recommend the bill receives consent in their assemblies.

Under Britain’s constitution, the British parliament must seek consent from the Scottish and Welsh assemblies when legislating on policy areas that overlap with their devolved powers.

While they do not have veto powers over the Brexit bill, ignoring their wishes would pressure yet further their already tense relations with London, and could feed public appetite for Scottish independence.

Reporting by Elisabeth O'Leary

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