Holyrood set for showdown with Westminster as Brexit bill passes

The Scottish Parliament is on a collision course with the constitution after MSPs passed a Brexit Bill which the presiding officer had declared beyond their remit.

In Cardiff the Welsh Assembly passed its own similar bill, again opposed by the Conservatives, hours before.

Earlier this week the Scottish Tories, who have been indulging the Nationalist ‘power grab’ line but opposed the legislation, tried to write a ‘Union guarantee’ into it.

These bills are the latest twist in a long-running battle between the devolved legislatures and Westminster over the future of some of the powers being repatriated from Brussels after Brexit. The first ministers want them all passed down, whereas UK ministers insist that some – indeed many – of them are necessary to maintaining the British internal market and should be reserved to Westminster.

Unfortunately the general election has robbed the Government of much of its fight on this topic, and it has been prepared to make significant and potentially dangerous concessions. However, only last week the Prime Minister vowed not to allow post-Brexit devolution to imperil the Union.

That, combined with the fact that picking a fight with London over powers is the default state of devocrat politicians throughout the kingdom, means that the row has yet to be resolved. It is likely that a deal will be struck, but the Government must not allow the Scottish Parliament to get away with trying to expand its prerogatives through illegal legislation.

Bradley gains power to cut MLAs’ pay

Earlier this week the House of Commons passed several pieces of legislation pertaining to Northern Ireland, even as the Government continued to insist that ‘direct rule’ is not on the agenda.

Amongst the measures included was the authority for Karen Bradley, the Northern Irish Secretary, to vary – which is to say, to cut – the salaries paid to members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, which has not sat for over a year.

She has been urged to consider this option for some time as a way of incentivising the Province’s recalcitrant politicians to strike a deal on restoring the power-sharing arrangements and getting devolved government up and running again. At present neither Sinn Fein nor the Democratic Unionists are under much pressure from their electorates to compromise.

In the meantime, there also appears to have been some more friction between London and Dublin over the process this week.

First, Bradley went on the record to say that she will not ‘impose a timetable‘ on the talks shortly after Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, called for a ‘redoubled effort’ to get them going again. Given the Government’s manifest unwillingness to implement full direct rule she probably wants to avoid repeating James Brokenshire’s mistake of continually setting meaningless deadlines which became a bit of a running joke.

Second, and more concretely, the Times reports that the British Government has rebuffed calls by Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign secretary, to convene a British-Irish inter-governmental conference over the Ulster issue. This is the latest development in a long-running row between the two capitals: Dublin insists that it will not accept a return to direct rule, whereas London has quite forcefully insisted that the decision is the prerogative of the British Government.

Varadkar attempted to assuage Unionist unease about his government’s involvement during a St Patrick’s Day speech in the United States, wherein he acknowledged that some of its interventions had been seen as “unwelcome or intrusive” but insisted that there was no secret plot for a united Ireland behind his actions.