The Scottish government has begun preparations for the introduction of an EU Continuity Bill to prepare Scotland’s laws for Brexit.
Recently, a cross-party Holyrood committee had called the UK government legislation “incompatible with the devolution settlement”.
In a joint letter to Scottish Parliament Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh, Minister for Scotland’s Place in Europe Michael Russell and Minister for Parliamentary Business Joe Fitzpatrick stated that the Scottish government is developing a Continuity Bill for Scotland and, if necessary, will introduce it in the Scottish Parliament in February 2018.
The ministers said that the Finance and Constitution Committee too had concluded that the approach of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill is “incompatible with the devolution settlement in Scotland”, similar to the views expressed by the Scottish and Welsh governments.
They explained that the committee also backs other criticisms of the Bill’s approach and supports the Scottish and Welsh governments’ proposed amendments on UK Ministers’ powers under the Bill.
The committee endorses the principle that the Scottish Ministers should be given equal powers to UK Ministers under the Bill, and expressed concern that the devolution statutes are not protected from amendment, the ministers said.
In the letter, the ministers said that the Scottish government’s preference is to work collaboratively with the UK government on the legislative consequences of EU withdrawal, including through the EU (Withdrawal) Bill.
They said: “Discussions continue on the potential for amendments to be made, but as things stand we need to prepare responsibly for the possibility of consent being withheld.
“To that end, our officials are developing a Continuity Bill for Scotland. This letter is intended to give you and your officials notice of the likely introduction of this Bill in February and its submission to you for pre-introduction scrutiny later this month.
“In its report, the committee has noted that if a Continuity Bill is introduced, an expedited timetable is likely to be required and has recommended that the Scottish government engage with the Parliament regarding the timetable for, and scrutiny of, the Bill.
“We can confirm that our intention would be to seek a timetable for the Continuity Bill which would allow it to be considered and passed by the Scottish Parliament quickly, giving certainty about the approach in Scotland and to enable enough time for the necessary instruments to be prepared and scrutinised.
“We have asked officials to begin engagement with their parliamentary counterparts over the timetable for, and options for scrutiny of, the Continuity Bill.”
The ministers said that the purpose of introducing the Bill is to ensure that Scotland’s laws can be prepared for the effects of EU withdrawal even if it does not prove possible to rely on the UK Bill.
They said: “It does not mean that we have definitely resolved to reject the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. But unless and until the necessary changes to the Bill are made, the Scottish government must provide for an alternative so that on any scenario there is a legislative framework in place for protecting Scotland’s system of laws from the disruption of UK withdrawal from the EU.”