JOHN Swinney has insisted that the UK Government’s pledge to improve relations with SNP ministers is “meaningless” after bringing forward new Brexit legislation with “no engagement” with Holyrood which is a “threat” to devolution.
Boris Johnson has launched a new “Brexit Freedoms” Bill, two years after the UK left the European Union, with his Government claiming the legislation will “cut £1 billion of red tape” for businesses.
The Brexit Freedoms Bill will affect the handling of retained EU law – Brussels-made regulations which were preserved in the UK statute book for legal continuity after the transition period ended in 2020.
The UK Government has previously made clear that it intends to eventually amend, replace or repeal all of the retained law that it deems “not right for the UK”.
But Scotland’s Deputy First Minister has suggested there is “not a scrap of evidence” to support the UK Government’s claim that red tape will be cut and a streamlined trading system for businesses brought forward.
The Scottish Government has vented its frustration after SNP Constitution Secretary, Angus Robertson, was “summoned” by the UK Government for a brief meeting on Saturday morning, when according to Mr Swinney, the legislation “was announced to us”.
Mr Robertson said the UK’s engagement process with devolved governments “is undermining the devolution settlement”.
He added: “Their latest power-grab plans are undemocratic, confrontational, disrespectful and totally unacceptable.”
Speaking on BBC Good Morning Scotland, Mr Swinney warned there had been “no prior consultation, no engagement, no dialogue” and “no enhancement in the way in which the administrations work together”.
Earlier this month, the UK Government suggested it would work more co-operatively with devolved governments, with the PM playing a more prominent role.
But Mr Swinney said these commitments have been rendered “totally meaningless” after “summoning a minister for a brief call on a Saturday morning to be told what is going to be happening”.
He added: “The powers of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly may well be undermined as a consequence of the decision.”
Mr Swinney insisted that the UK Government had form, pointing to the Internal Market Bill which he said was using “the excuse of Brexit to undermine the powers of the Scottish Parliament”.
He added: “That’s the reality of the threat that we face to devolution. It’s a threat I’ve been very open about in the statements I’ve made to the public about the issues being taken forward by the UK Government.
“Our Scottish Parliament’s powers are under real threat and that threat comes from the UK Government.
“We’ll take forward discussions with the UK Government but the public in Scotland need to be aware of the very direct threat there is to the powers of the Scottish Parliament and the actions of the UK Government.”
Downing Street said that under current rules, changing or scrapping regulations in the pipeline of outdated legislation would take “several years” because of a long-winded alteration process.
It said the new Bill will “ensure that changes can be made more easily”, so the UK can “capitalise on Brexit freedoms more quickly”.
No 10 did not specify exactly what provisions the Bill will contain to speed up reforms, or how it calculated that businesses would save £1 billion through the cutting of red tape.