David Mundell, the Scotland secretary, has insisted the Scottish parliament will emerge stronger from Brexit after a chorus of attacks on Theresa May’s pro-union speech.
Repeatedly defending the prime minister, Mundell told the Scottish Conservatives that the Westminster government had made very clear that new powers would pass to Holyrood after the UK leaves the European Union.
He said the Scottish national party was making “bizarre and wrong-headed claims” when they accused the prime minister of a power-grab on Holyrood in her speech to the Scottish Tories’ spring conference on Friday.
Alex Salmond, the former first minister, led the SNP attacks after May made clear only a limited amount of EU powers would be handed directly to Holyrood from Brussels, which has policy control over farming and fisheries in Scotland and controls farm subsidy payments.
Mundell retorted: “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: none of the decisions currently taken at Holyrood will be transferred to Westminster.
“And when decisions now taken in Brussels are returned to the UK, more decisions will be devolved back into the hands of the Scottish people. It is spelled out in black and white in the UK government’s white paper [on Brexit], and the prime minister repeated it yesterday.
“It says a lot about the nationalist mentality that the promise of more powers is somehow an attack on devolution.”
Mundell and UK ministers have so far failed to set out which powers Holyrood will acquire, but have signaled they would involve justice and policing powers, as well as some in agriculture and fisheries.
May said there were complex decisions to be made involving the Welsh and Northern Irish governments, as well as UK departments, but stated that the UK’s collective interests and protecting its internal market would come first.
With £500m in Scottish farm subsidies now at stake, the clash between the two governments centres on a legal and constitutional dispute over which parliament automatically controls EU powers in policy areas which are devolved.
Constitutional lawyers say the Scotland Act 1998, which set up the Scottish parliament, makes clear that any powers not explicitly reserved to Westminster are automatically regarded as devolved. But that act also said EU legislation and regulation are a matter for Westminster.
In a further gibe, Mundell accused the SNP of hypocrisy for attacking the UK government’s stance on devolving EU powers when the SNP’s goal of rejoining the EU after independence would mean handing those powers back to Brussels again.