The UK is facing a constitutional crisis after all three of the devolved administrations voted against Brexit legislation, the SNP’s Westminster leader warned the Prime Minister.
Ian Blackford spoke after the Welsh Assembly voted on Tuesday to reject the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill – following in the footsteps of the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The SNP MP accused the UK Government of using the legislation for a power grab on the Parliaments in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, criticising the “gross disrespect from Boris Johnson and his Brexit fanboys that are in Number 10 Downing Street”.
After the vote in Cardiff on Tuesday, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “All three devolved parliaments have now rejected the EU Withdrawal Bill – it is unprecedented and momentous.
“For the UK to ignore that reality will simply demonstrate how broken the Westminster system is.”
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said the Bill was “flawed and doesn’t protect the interests of those we serve”.
Meanwhile, Mr Blackford said the Scottish Parliament would lose 28 devolved powers covering areas such as farming, fishing and the environment. He raised fears this could be just the first such attack on devolution from Westminster.
Power battle between Boris Johnson’s government and the House of Lords over rights and powers eroded in his EU Withdrawal Agreement
The Sewel Convention, a key feature of the UK’s political arrangements, sets out that the UK Parliament will “not normally” legislate on devolved policy areas without the consent of the administrations. – It is under threat from Boris Johnson’s EU Withdrawal Agreement.
Last night in a crucial defeat for Johnson – one of five for his Brexit Bill – the House of Lords voted an amendment that would protect the convention. The defeats in the House of Lords greatly angered Conservative peers. Opposition peers meanwhile mocked Boris Johnson’s government’s threats to move the second chamber North.
The five amendments the House of Lords passed came about due to its ability to scrutinize Boris Johnson’s Withdrawal Bill in a way the House of Commons found it hard to with Johnson’s large majority of MPs who appear unable to question their party leader.
On Wednesday afternoon the government majority in the House of Commons meant all five Lords amendments to the Brexit Bill were voted against with a comfortable majority for Boris Johnson, with the concerns of the Sewel Convention amendment ignored again.
It is the first test of the new balance of power, especially with some of Boris Johnson’s authoritarian plans set out on the Queen’s Speech and the redrafting of decades of legislation and human rights that will occur when the UK leaves the EU. Among the legislation Tory MPs voted against the House of Lords on was eroding promises to reunite lone refugee children with family in the UK post-Brexit.
Constitutional crisis looms if Brexit Bill remains a power grab
Ian Blackford, speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme, warned that if Boris Johnson stubbornly ignores concerns raised by the devolved regions fo the UK and the warning of the House of Lords amendment to his Brexit Bill to protect devolved authorities, there would be a constitutional crisis.
He warned: “The Queen is going to be asked to give Royal Assent to this Act and it is an Act that doesn’t have the support of three of the four Parliaments in the United Kingdom.
“That is unprecedented and I would suggest it is in effect a constitutional crisis.
“The Prime Minister has got to change his position, he’s got to respect the first ministers in all the devolved administrations.”
The SNP’s Westminster leader added: “If you can argue, as the Government seems to have done in this case, that the situation is not normal, then you can always say the situation is not normal.
“What is to stop you turning around and taking powers back from the Scottish Parliament at another time?”
While none of the devolved institutions have granted permission for Westminster to go ahead with the legislation, their actions will not stop the Withdrawal Bill from passing through Westminster.
Mr Blackford added: “There’s 28 devolved powers that we’re going to be losing as a consequence of this. But really it is about this issue of respect. What we’ve got here is the Government acting with a big stick, that is effectively telling not just Holyrood but Cardiff and Belfast as well ‘this is what going to happen and you don’t have a say in this’.
“We’re supposed to have a family of nations and Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom is supposed to be respected. None of that is happening and I think that is why you have got legitimate concerns.”