The UK Government has moved to break the deadlock over its farming ‘power grab’ by offering to send all EU powers directly to the devolved regions after Brexit.
Scotland and Wales had previously threatened to derail the EU Withdrawal Bill, which copies and pastes EU law into British law, because it contained a clause which would prevent them from passing rules in areas which were previously the EU’s responsibility, such as agriculture – effectively keeping those powers in Westminster.
The Government was heavily criticised for failing to amend the clause while the Bill was being scrutinised by MPs in the House of Commons, but it has now shared some proposed changes with the devolved regions which will be put forward as the legislation passes through the House of Lords.
Under the plans, all devolved EU powers will be transferred directly from Brussels to Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, but it is thought the devolved Governments will be forced to ‘freeze’ policy making in some key areas, including farming and the environment, until UK frameworks can be agreed.
The proposals will be discussed at a meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC), which deals with devolution matters, today.
Chair of the JMC and de-facto Deputy Prime Minister David Lidington said: “The proposal we have put on the table is a considerable offer which I hope the devolved administrations will engage with constructively.
“We have worked closely with the devolved administrations to find a way forward which respects the role of the devolved Governments and ensures we are able to protect our vital UK internal market, worth around four times as much to Scotland as the EU’s.
“All sides agree certain areas will require common frameworks – and it is therefore imperative we do not make life more difficult for businesses and families across the UK as we manage the process of bringing new powers back from the EU.
“We have demonstrated a willingness to listen and adapt our approach in order to find an agreed way forward, and we encourage others to do likewise so we can make good progress.”
But Michael Russell, Scottish Brexit Minister, told Farmers Guardian: “The reality is the UK Government continues to insist on taking control of major devolved policy areas covering agriculture, fishing and the environment without the agreement of the Scottish Parliament.
“That is completely unacceptable. We are not opposed to UK-wide frameworks where these are in Scotland’s interests, but Brexit cannot be used to undermine the devolution settlement in this fundamental way.”
The Welsh Government was more positive, with a spokesman saying: “While there is no agreement as yet, all three Governments share the objective of finding amendments which would enable the National Assembly and the Scottish Parliament to give legislative consent to the Bill.
“We are hopeful agreement can be reached and will be working hard to this end over the coming weeks.”
The news came shortly after the Scottish Government said it had been unable to make progress on the development of a post-Brexit agriculture policy because of uncertainty around where powers would lie and what funding would be available.