Scotland politics

Scots minister 'will publish EU analysis'

Mike Russell Image copyright PA
Image caption Mr Russell is leading the Scottish government's negotiations with the UK government over the Brexit process

The Scottish government has said it will publish the UK government's controversial Brexit briefing paper if it is given it.

The document, which was leaked to Buzzfeed earlier this week, predicts that Brexit will hit the UK economy.

The UK government said releasing the analysis to the public could damage its negotiations with the EU.

But Scotland's Brexit secretary, Michael Russell, said the public had a right to know.

Downing Street announced on Wednesday that MPs and peers would be able to see the report on a confidential basis, after initially refusing to do so.

UK government had also made it clear that the document would be shared with the devolved administrations - but that it would need to be "handled with appropriate confidentially".

However, in a letter to his UK government counterpart, David Davis, Mr Russell said the Scottish government would release the information to the public even if it is asked not to do so.

Mr Russell argued that people "have a right to know the impact on jobs and living standards of the UK government's decision to pursue the UK's exit from the EU".

He added: "Further, this is not our analysis and we do not see it as our responsibility to make arrangements on confidential handling.

"I want to be clear that if you send the analysis to us we will make it public".

'Appropriate confidentiality'

The UK government said it had not yet received Mr Russell's letter, so could not comment directly on it.

But Brexit minister Robin Walker told the Commons on Wednesday that it was "for the devolved administrations to ensure that such documents are handled with appropriate confidentiality".

He also said the UK government had "no objection in principle to their being shared with members of the devolved legislatures on the same basis of confidentiality".

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Theresa May, who is in China to meet President Xi Jinping, had initially refused to share the Brexit analysis paper but later u-turned

The leaked study suggests that in three different scenarios the UK economy would grow more slowly than it would if it stayed in the European Union.

The government has argued that the document is incomplete, and that immediate publication could damage UK negotiations with the EU.

Theresa May initially told reporters en route to China, where she is on a trade mission, that making the analysis public before it was fully completed would be "wrong".

Potential defeat

But with the government facing potential defeat in the vote on Wednesday afternoon, Mr Walker told MPs a copy of the report would be given to Hilary Benn, the Labour chairman of the Commons Brexit committee.

He added: "A confidential reading room can be provided for other MPs and peers a copy of this analysis to view the material on a confidential basis. This will happen only when arrangements can be made."

Mr Russell's letter was published ahead of new UK Cabinet Office minister David Lidington arriving in Edinburgh for talks with Scottish government ministers about Brexit.

Mr Russell and Deputy First Minister John Swinney set out their concerns over devolved powers and Brexit legislation, but described the talks as being "very frustrating" as Mr Lidington "arrived and left without putting words on the table to allow for a meaningful discussion".

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption David Lidington is heading to Edinburgh for his first talks with the Scottish government since succeeding Damian Green

Mr Russell said: "The UK government has rejected Scottish and Welsh government amendments that would protect devolution but, despite its previous commitment, has failed to bring forward any solution of its own.

"Despite many meetings, once again the UK ministers arrived and left without putting words on the table to allow for a meaningful discussion.

"So we are still in the position that the Scottish government cannot and will not recommend that the bill should receive legislative consent."

Mr Lidington insisted the talks had been "useful", adding: "There are issues that still need to be resolved on the Withdrawal Bill but I remain optimistic that we can find a way forward.

"There are areas that we agree on. We both want all parts of the UK to be ready for the day that we leave the EU."

The UK government and the devolved administrations are at loggerheads over what happens to powers currently not reserved to Westminster, but which are currently exercised from Brussels, when the UK leaves the EU.

Ran out of time

The current proposals in the EU Withdrawal Bill would see all powers return to London before some are fully devolved and others are integrated into UK-wide frameworks, but the Edinburgh and Cardiff administrations term this a "power grab" - phrasing Mr Lidington rejected on Thursday.

UK ministers had pledged to amend the legislation to assuage these concerns, but ran out of time to do so while the bill was under consideration in the Commons.

They now say it will be amended in the Lords, but the devolved administrations have started work on their own stop-gap legislation in preparation for a scenario where consent for the Withdrawal Bill is withheld.

Mr Lidington is taking on the role of Damian Green, his predecessor as Cabinet Office minister who led for the UK government in negotiations with the devolved administrations.

He was visiting Cardiff and Edinburgh in this role for the first time on Thursday.

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