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Holyrood votes against Article 50, but legally Westminister holds all of the power

ByMizuho Asai

Feb 16, 2017

On 7 February, Holyrood voted by 90 to 34 to oppose the UK government starting the Brexit process.

However, the Supreme Court judged that the Scottish Government does not have veto power over Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

Westminster does not have to consult with Holyrood and the governments of Wales and Northern Ireland before triggering Article 50. According to the Supreme Court judges involved: “The devolution Acts were passed by Parliament on the assumption that the UK would be a member of the EU, but they do not require the UK to remain in a member.”

“Relations with the EU and other foreign affairs matters are reserved to UK government and parliament, not to the devolved institutions. Withdrawal from the EU will alter the competence of the devolved institutions, and remove the responsibilities to comply with EU law,” they concluded.

The Sewel Convention enables the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, and Northern Ireland Assembly to have legislative power over devolved matters, without input from Westminster. However, it also states that the UK Government can intervene at times they regard appropriate.

The Supreme Court stated: “As to the application of the Sewel Convention to the decision to withdraw from the EU given the effect on the devolved competences, the Convention operates as a political constraint on the activity of the UK Parliament. It therefore plays an important role in the operation of the UK constitution. “

“But the policing of its scope and operation is not within the constitutional remit of the courts. The devolved legislatures do not have a veto on the UK’s decision to withdraw from the EU,” it concluded.

During Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament, SNP MP Angus Robertson said Holyrood voted overwhelmingly against triggering Article 50.

However, Theresa May emphasised that: “The Supreme Court clearly said Scottish Parliament does not have a veto on triggering of Article 50.”

In response to Robertson’s remark on the interests of Scotland within the European Union, May added: “He constantly refers to the interests of Scotland inside the European Union—an independent Scotland would not be in the European Union.”

At First Minister’s Questions, Nicola Sturgeon remarked: “Scotland voted to remain in the EU and my job is therefore to protect our place in Europe and in the single market as far as I possibly can.”

According to Sky News, Sturgeon criticised the current situation, stating that: “It is becoming clearer by the day that Scotland’s voice is simply not being heard or listened to within the UK.” 

Alex Salmond, former First Minister and the SNP’s Foreign Affairs spokesman said to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that: “We welcome the Supreme Court’s decision and hope that their ruling brings this Tory government back to the reality that they cannot simply bypass elected parliamentarians to fulfil their role in carrying out due and proper scrutiny of one of the biggest decisions facing the UK.”

He further stated that: “The Prime Minster and her hard Brexit brigade must treat devolved administrations as equal partners—as indeed she promised to do. If Theresa May is intent on being true to her word that Scotland and the other devolved administrations are equal partners in this process, then now is the time to show it.”

Richard Brodie, Senior Tutor at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Social and Political Science said to The Student: “Westminster will most likely ignore Scottish Parliament’s opinion even though they are promoting Scottish interests.”

Brodie continued: “They won’t have another referendum for next a few years, because their possibility of being able to win independence is low and until the economic position post-Brexit is clear and they will get reassurance that they can enter European Union after they become independent. Moreover, Westminster will be very reticent to the allow Scottish Parliament to have another referendum.”

He emphasised that Holyrood has no option other than to accept the decision of Westminster to trigger Article 50 and proceed with Brexit’s official procedures.

Image: Scottish Government

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