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Scotland, Wales aim to cement post-Brexit autonomy

February 28, 2018

The two countries have moved to prevent the UK government from launching a power grab when Britain leaves the European Union. New legislation will be introduced to enshrine EU laws on fishing and farming if required.

British, Scottish and EU flags
Image: Getty Images/JJ.Mitchell

On Tuesday, as Britain debates how to best incorporate EU law into national legislation once it exits the bloc, the governments of Scotland and Wales announced that they would introduce their own laws to prevent London from weakening their autonomy as a result of Brexit.

In the coming days, laws aimed at strengthening regional powers — including in the agriculture and fishery sectors, which are currently governed by EU frameworks — will be debated by the devolved parliaments in Edinburgh and Cardiff.

The Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh governments are concerned that the London parliament, which legislates on behalf of the whole of the UK, will seek to pass laws unilaterally that incorporate EU treaties into British national law, denying the three countries a say on key regional policies.

Read more: UK must protect Scotch whisky post-Brexit, says Scottish official

Scotland: Fears of losing EU workers

The three nations have been negotiating with London over exactly how the EU powers will be returned, but have reached a stumbling block.

Backup plan

Scotland and Wales are seeking new legislation as a backup plan in case no deal can be reached, according to the governments.

Northern Ireland's government is currently suspended as nationalists and unionists are deadlocked in negotiations for a power-sharing deal. A further Brexit complication is the border that the territory shares with the EU member the Republic of Ireland, which Brussels, Dublin and London have pledged to keep open.

Read more: Irexit: Brexit's Nigel Farage takes fight to Ireland

The British government must finalize a deal with Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales before the summer in order to pass its own European Union (Withdrawal) Bill in the national parliament. But after months of wrangling, it indicated on Monday that it would offer no further concessions to the three countries, citing risks to national unity.

Welsh officials say British Prime Minister Theresa May's current plans would allow London to take control of laws and policy areas that are handled by the devolved governments.

"This is simply not acceptable to the Welsh government, or the people of Wales who have voted for devolution in two referendums," a statement from Cardiff reads.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is ready to call a new independence referendum if she doesn't get to maintain devolved powers from LondonImage: picture alliance/empics/J. Barlow

And, by introducing its own bill now, Scotland's government would ensure that it has "the tools needed to make sure these laws keep working after withdrawal."

Independence bid threatened

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned that she retains "a mandate" to hold a second independence referendum if London tries to impose its will on Scotland.

Read more: Brexit: Jeremy Corbyn wants UK in EU customs union

The row has the potential to open up a full-blown constitutional crisis, with some legal analysts accusing the Scottish and Welsh governments of overreaching their powers. It could take weeks or months to establish whether any new laws would be binding.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland won devolved powers from London in the late 1990s after decades of demands for more autonomy. Plans to extend devolution to regions of England were never enacted. In the 2016 Brexit referendum, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU, while Wales voted to leave.

Johnson says there will be no hard Irish border

mm/se (AFP, Reuters)