Scots ministers will not compromise over Brussels powers row, says Brexit Secretary

© PAMichael Russell and Nicola Sturgeon
Michael Russell and Nicola Sturgeon

Scotland’s Brexit Secretary has insisted there will be no compromise with the UK Government in the row over devolved powers without changes being made to the “profoundly anti-democratic” EU Withdrawal Bill.

Mike Russell insisted that the legislation – which has already been rejected by Holyrood – “undermines the whole of the constitutional settlement”.

Ministers in Edinburgh and London have been unable to break the deadlock between the two governments over the Bill, which nationalist politicians insist is a “power grab”.

Speaking at the SNP confernece in Aberdeen, Mr Russell warned: “We’re heading to a situation where no matter how Scotland votes it’s the Tories who get to decide.”

While he said the Scottish Government had attempted to find a middle ground in talks with Theresa May’s administration, he told the conference all those efforts had been rebuffed.

And he insisted: “There are somethings you can’t compromise on and some people you can’t compromise with.

“We can’t compromise if irreversible damage is to be done to Scotland and everyone who lives here. We can’t compromise if the outcome would be damage to our country and its democracy.

“And we can compromise with those who don’t care about our future, who are only moving backwards into an imaginary past.”

He insisted: “The Scottish Government will continue to defend Scotland’s Parliament. Not because it is the best it could be, because it is the best we presently have and it is only by having that we can make it better.”

Last month, Holyrood voted against giving formal consent to the Withdrawal Bill – with Labour, Lib Dem and Green MSPs voting with the SNP on the issue.

While the move will not prevent the UK Government from bringing in the legislation, it could spark a constitutional crisis if the Bill has to be imposed against the wishes of the Scottish Parliament.

Mr Russell said since then the approach of the Tory administration had been to “refuse to acknowledge concerns and talk to the parties at the Scottish Parliament”.

He also said he believed a Brexit deal could be won which would see the UK remain in both the single market and the customs union.

He told the conference: “We will always articulate what we believe is best for Scotland and in this case that is continuing membership of the EU – that is what Scotland voted for in 2016 and what I am sure it would vote for again if there were another referendum.

“But if we can’t achieve that in the short term, then the only possible alternative, the least bad alternative, is continuing membership of the single market and the customs union. That can be campaigned for and won.”

Mr Russell insisted: “Brexit is bound to cause damage to our economy, to our society and to our countries. The only real issue is the scale of the damage and how it can be mitigated.

“A good Brexit couldn’t be delivered by anybody, because it doesn’t exist.

“A good Brexit is a fantasy, it is a fiction that the Tories want you to believe. It is as impossible as a vow of silence from Nigel Farage.”