Nicola Sturgeon has warned a key piece of Brexit legislation risks "undermining" the Scottish parliament, and has urged Theresa May to make substantial compromises or risk the bill being blocked by Scottish MPs.
Speaking at an event in Edinburgh on Monday morning marking the 20th anniversary of people in Scotland voting for a devolved parliament, Sturgeon said the EU withdrawal bill, which converts all existing EU laws into domestic ones and on which MPs will vote this evening, threatens "the very principle" of devolution.
UK government ministers have said ahead of tonight's vote that MPs who vote against the bill will endorse a "chaotic Brexit", with foreign secretary Boris Johnson saying they will "frustrate" the Brexit process.
However, the first minister told BuzzFeed News that her 35 MPs will not consider backing the bill until it removes a key clause which she said would risk devolution, and called on all Scottish MPs to force Theresa May to change course.
“The EU withdrawal bill which the UK government is attempting to take through the House of Commons today threatens the very principle on which our parliament is founded," said the first minister.
“The devolution settlement – the Scotland Act that established our parliament – is based on the principle that everything is automatically devolved unless it is reserved. The withdrawal bill turns that principle on its head.
"As it stands, it will mean that devolved policy areas such as agriculture, fishing, and the environment, which are currently carried out at EU level, will be automatically reserved, unless the UK government decides to devolve."
The first minister added: "On the very day that we should be celebrating devolution, we are being called upon to defend it.”
Asked by BuzzFeed News what would have to change in the bill to win the backing of the SNP and the Scottish government, Sturgeon said that clause 11 of the bill, which sets out how leaving the EU will affect the powers of the UK's devolved parliaments, must be substantially reconsidered.
As it stands, clause 11 of the bill states that it will prevent Holyrood from making any changes to "retained EU law", which covers areas like agriculture, the environment, and some economic development policies.
The Law Society of Scotland has warned that the withdrawal bill would negatively affect the powers of the parliament, saying it would "remove the legislative competence of the Scottish parliament in relation to any matter in retained EU law".
On what would have to change in the bill, Sturgeon said: "The bill is a hotch-potch and a mess in many different respects and there are concerns across the UK on the power it gives government over parliament – but for the devolved settlement, clause 11 is the one that does what I was talking about."
She added: "It turns the principal of devolution on its head and automatically reserves everything even in devolved areas unless the UK government later decides to devolve them."
Scottish Labour has previously said its MPs will vote against the bill this evening in fear of a "Westminster power grab", but the Scottish Conservatives said Sturgeon was guilty of "scaremongering" over her claim that the bill would undermine devolution.
Scottish Conservative MP Paul Masterton said: “This is shameless scaremongering from Nicola Sturgeon, who seems to be up to her old constitutional tricks again. People in Scotland are sick to death of the First Minister using Brexit to manufacture more grievance.
“She cannot preach to others about consensus while she refuses to take the threat of another referendum off the table. The UK Government has made it perfectly clear, on numerous occasions, that the powers of the Scottish Parliament will not be diminished through this process. In fact, the opposite will be the case.
“It’s less than a week since Nicola Sturgeon appeared before the Scottish Parliament promising to get back to the day job. But already she’s back to what she and the SNP do best – stoking up manufactured trouble with the constitution.”
Jamie Ross is a Scotland reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Edinburgh.
Contact Jamie Ross at email@example.com.
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