One of Britain’s leading law professors has slammed the UK Government for including an agricultural ‘power grab’ in its EU Withdrawal Bill, describing the move as ‘fundamentally wrong’.
Richard Rawlings, professor of public law at University College London, made the remarks when he gave evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee this week.
The timing of his intervention was unfortunate for Damian Green, the Prime Minister’s deputy, who had claimed days earlier that the row about post-Brexit farming powers was over.
Professor Rawlings said: “The devolution clauses have got this fundamentally wrong and cannot stand, they have to be replaced.
“I do not think it is realistic statecraft to bring forward clauses which Scotland and Wales are not going to consent to.”
Mr Green met key figures from the devolved nations this week as part of the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) after they threatened to derail the EU Withdrawal Bill because of its ‘power grab’ clauses.
The clauses would prevent the devolved regions from passing laws in areas which were previously the EU’s responsibility, such as agriculture.
After the JMC meeting, Mr Green said: “I think you will see from principles we have agreed today that talk of a power grab is now behind us.
“We fully respect the devolution settlements and we expect this to end with more powers going to the devolved administrations.”
Though the Scottish and Welsh Governments agreed progress had been made, they restated their opposition to the Bill in its current form.
Professor Rawlings admitted the agreement of general principles to be used in UK-wide frameworks was a ‘significant step forward’, but he criticised UK Ministers for insisting on bilateral discussions with their devolved counterparts.
“I have been very disappointed with the lack of working of the JMC since last February”, he said.
“Frankly, it is disgraceful that the JMC has not met from February until yesterday. At this absolutely crucial moment in our history, it seems to me that body should have been out there working, bringing colleagues together.
“The Scots and Welsh have consistently called for it to be up and running, but UK Ministers have not wanted to do that and have insisted on bilateral discussions. That is a mistake.”
The JMC is due to meet again before Christmas.