Nicola Sturgeon has signalled she will try and derail the Great Repeal Bill by withholding her government’s consent for its plans to give Scotland powers repatriated from Brussels.
The First Minister repeated her claim that Westminster was planning a “power grab” by refusing to hand over all responsibilities currently exercised by the EU in devolved policy areas such as fisheries and agriculture.
Her official spokesman warned that unless every power in these areas was transferred, the SNP would refuse to pass a Legislative Consent Motion (LCM) for the Bill. This is the device used where MSPs give permission for Westminster to make laws in devolved areas.
Although the UK Government could override Holyrood and press ahead nonetheless, this would provide more political ammunition in Ms Sturgeon’s campaign to whip up public support for a second independence referendum.
David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, said that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should expect a “significant increase” in powers after they are taken back from Brussels.
But he argued that the UK Government should provide the “framework” for replacements for the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy as having different systems north and south of the Border would fracture the British market.
Professor Michael Keating, director of the ESCR Centre on Constitutional Change, warned that Tory ministers would have to take the politically “provocative” step of changing the Scotland Act against Holyrood’s will.
The legislation devolves anything that is not specifically reserved, meaning all the EU’s current powers over agriculture and fisheries would automatically pass to Holyrood unless it was revised.
The row broke out as senior Holyrood sources warned the parliament will require a huge extension of its family-friendly hours while MSPs replace thousands of EU rules and regulations currently embedded in Scots law.
It is understood that the Scottish Parliament’s authorities are examining how it could cope with the massive increase in workload that will result from the Great Repeal Bill.
The Bill's White Paper said a “very significant proportion” of EU-derived law will not work properly after Brexit in two years’ time and UK Government legal advisers are working with the devolved administrations to determine the scale of the changes needed.
Speaking during First Minister's Questions at Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon did not mention her preparations but said the Bill raised questions over where the repatriated powers should go.
She said: "Under the current terms of the Scotland Act, those powers should automatically come to this chamber but nobody in the UK Government, and I discussed this with the Prime Minister on Monday.
“Nobody on the Conservative benches will give that guarantee, which leads me to suspect that what the Tories are actually planning is a power grab on this parliament, and that will be absolutely unacceptable.”
Asked if her government would refuse to pass an LCM, her spokesman said: “We wouldn’t in those circumstances be giving legislative consent.” He added: “We have no intention of facilitating or enabling the removal of powers from this parliament.”
The White Paper pointed out the current devolution settlements were “premised” on EU membership, with Brussels providing policy frameworks in areas like agriculture that the Scottish Government then implement.
It promised “intensive” discussions with the devolved administration over where UK-wide frameworks would be required after Brexit.
Mr Davis told MPs it would be “very bad” for Scottish farmers and producers if the United Kingdom market became “separated” from them as it was four times as important as the EU market.
The Brexit Secretary was unable to say whether an LCM from Holyrood would be required, although David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary, has previously said he thought it would be.
Adam Tomkins, the Scottish Conservative constitution spokesman, said: “The SNP is complaining about the return of substantial new powers which, under its plans, would remain in Brussels. If ever people needed to see their utter hypocrisy, this is it.”