Brexit constitutional stand-off reaches UK Supreme Court
9 June 2018
A case provisionally due to reach the UK Supreme Court on July 24 marks an unprecedented escalation of tensions between the Conservative central government and the Scottish National Party (SNP) in Edinburgh. It is the first time a disagreement between Westminster and Holyrood has reached the Supreme Court.
At issue are powers due to be handed back to Britain from the European Union (EU), when the UK quits the bloc, over matters such as food labelling, agriculture, fishery management and public procurement. Authority over these lucrative sectors of the economy, although currently in the hands of the EU, legally resides with the Scottish parliament and the Cardiff-based Welsh Assembly, under the terms of the UK’s devolution settlement of 1999.
The British government of Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May wants the powers to be repatriated to London, leading to complaints of a “power grab.” In March this year, Edinburgh and Cardiff passed emergency continuity legislation to ensure that, post Brexit, control over the contested sectors lapsed to the devolved administrations rather than Westminster. The legislation gave Scottish and Welsh ministers authority to maintain regulatory regimes in line with the EU.
In the event of a “hard” Brexit, followed by a growing customs and trade divergence between Britain and the EU, the result of Scotland or Wales using these powers would be to create differing regulatory environments within the UK. This would effectively break up the UK internal market.
The British government referred both the Scottish and Welsh bills to the Supreme Court, in the hope that the legislation would be struck down as outside the competence of the devolved…