Brexit: UK Government 'must act now' on relations with devolved nations, says Scottish minister

Michael Russell says greater involvement from the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish administrations is needed to avoid 'the most damaging consequences'

Lynsey Bews
Saturday 09 September 2017 01:33
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Michael Russell
Michael Russell

Scotland's Brexit minister is expected to call for a "radical shift" in how the UK Government deals with the devolved nations when he addresses the British Irish Association today.

Michael Russell said greater involvement from the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish administrations is needed to avoid "the most damaging consequences" of leaving the European Union.

Following the general election, the Scottish Government called for the devolved governments to be included in the Brexit negotiations, with the Joint Ministerial Committee re-established.

But the JMC on EU Negotiations has not met since February.

Speaking at a Holyrood committee on Thursday, Mr Russell said the UK government was acting as if devolution "never happened".

Scottish ministers were not consulted on a range of Brexit papers, while objections to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill and pleas to keep the country in the European single market were dismissed, he said.

Addressing the British Irish Association conference in Cambridge, Mr Russell will say: "All of the constituent nations and peoples of these islands will be harmed by a hard Brexit that sees the UK, including Northern Ireland, outside the single market and customs union, while Ireland and the rest of the EU are on the other side.

"What we need is for the UK Government to admit this reality and stand up to those who would see the economy go off a cliff edge.

"The Brexit negotiations have made abundantly clear that we need a radical shift in how intergovernmental relationships are managed between the UK and the devolved nations.

"The UK Government must act now and make meaningful changes. Not only is it within their gift to do so - it is also in their interests."

Mr Russell's comments come after the EU's negotiator Michel Barnier said he was worried by the UK’s proposals for the Northern Ireland border.

He accused Theresa May's Government of trying to get the EU to suspend its laws, customs unions and single market along the border.

"And the UK wants to use Ireland as a kind of test case for the future EU-UK customs relations. This will not happen," he said on Thursday.

The impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is one of the key issues being discussed in the early stages of the negotiations.

A UK Government spokesman said: “The level of engagement on this issue has been unprecedented, including meetings with ministers, officials, businesses and groups across the nations.

“The bill and white paper were both shared in advance of publication.

“Since the election, ministers and officials continue to be in close contact with the devolved administrations.”

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