Scottish Brexit minister: Trust between Westminster and Holyrood at ‘lowest ebb’

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A Scottish Government minister has told how trust with Westminster has reached its “lowest ebb”.

It comes as research by a Commons committee found just one in 1,000 people believe the two governments work well together.

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee found 0.1% of people believe the two administrations work well together, while an overwhelmingly 98.7% said they did not.

That was the view of respondents to the committee’s public forum on Scottish devolution.

MPs from the committee met in Edinburgh as the stand-off between the Scottish and UK governments over post-Brexit powers continues.

Ministers at Holyrood are still refusing to give their consent to the EU Withdrawal Bill, with opposition continuing after their counterparts in Wales withdrew their objections to the legislation.

But Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard, as well as Wille Rennie from the Liberal Democrats and Patrick Harvie of the Scottish Greens, backed the SNP stance on this – demanding more changes from the UK Government.

While Scottish Brexit Minister Mike Russell stressed the Scottish Government still wanted to give legislative consent to the Bill, the “core issue” had not been resolved.

He insisted that as it stands it would mean “the Scottish Parliament will have its legislative competence very substantially overruled for a substantial period of time, not just in the 24 areas that are likely to be the subject of frameworks, but in any other area that the UK Government chooses”.

However he told the committee: “We’ve got ourselves I’m afraid to the stage where there is a very substantial lack of trust on both sides.”

As ministers at Holyrood have not been able to agree to the Bill the Scottish Government has passed its own Brexit continuity legislation – although this is being challenged by the UK Government.

Mr Russell said: “What I think it does reflect regretably is that the trust on which the relationship has to be based is at a pretty low ebb, probably the lowest ebb I have experienced.”

He said he had been involved in Joint Ministerial Committees – which bring together the UK Government and the devolved administrations – back in 2009, but said: “I think the system has even less trust than it had in it then.”

But on the issue of the Bill, Mr Russell said: “It’s not too late. I am absolutely clear we are willing to enter into an agreement.”

To achieve that he said changes would have to be made by the UK Government, a stance backed by three of the four opposition parties at Holyrood.

Mr Leonard said: “We would not accept it because there are still aspects of this that need to be addressed.”

He argued the UK Government’s legislation “still fails properly to recognise” the 1998 Scotland Act – which created the Scottish Parliament and its “default position which is about the powers resting with the Scottish Parliament and not the UK Parliament”.

The Scottish Labour leader also spoke of a “complete breakdown of trust” between the two govenrments.

He added: “I have to say that the responsibility for that breakdown of trust lies with the way that the UK Government approached the Withdrawal Bill with regard to the devolution settlement.”

Meanwhile on the Bill Mr Harvie, the Scottish Green co-convener, stated: “The amendments which have been published remain incompatible with  the devolution settlement, in particular the introduction of restrictions on the actions the Scottish Parliament or ministers can take.”

Mr Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, added: “I think further compromise and agreement is required.”

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