The Government has risked deepening a Brexit row with devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales by taking them to the Supreme Court.
On Tuesday, Attorney General Jeremy Wright announced he is asking the UK’s highest court to rule whether Brexit legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly is legal.
The row centres on Edinburgh and Cardiff’s rejection of the UK Government’s flagship Brexit legislation, the EU Withdrawal Bill.
The Scottish and Welsh administrations have branded the bill a “power grab” by Westminster and warned the UK will be thrown into a constitutional crisis if the Government doesn’t win their approval for the legislation.
Both devolved governments fear that law-making powers being returned from the European Union after Brexit will be held in London and not passed on to their administrations.
As a result, both the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly passed their own alternatives to the key Brexit legislation last month, which aims to replicate EU law into UK law in time for its departure from the trading bloc next year.
Mr Wright will now challenge the legality of the Scottish and Welsh administration’s Brexit legislation and will ask for a Supreme Court ruling on whether it is constitutional and within the powers of Edinburgh and Cardiff.
Ongoing talks between Westminster and the devolved governments have yet to overcome the impasse over the EU Withdrawal Bill, although Mr Wright expressed hope the discussions could yet achieve a breakthrough and avoid the Supreme Court’s involvement.
He said: “This legislation risks creating serious legal uncertainty for individuals and businesses as we leave the EU.
“This reference is a protective measure which we are taking in the public interest.
“The Government very much hopes this issue will be resolved without the need to continue with this litigation.”
The Government is already facing a battle to pass the EU Withdrawal Bill through Westminster’s Parliament, with the House of Lords likely to try and amend the legislation in a series of votes this week.
Responding to Mr Wright’s decision to refer Edinburgh’s Continuity Bill to the Supreme Court, the Scottish government’s Brexit minister Michael Russell pointed to how an “overwhelming majority” of MSPs passed the legislation.
He revealed Scotland’s chief law officer would be challenging the UK Government’s position in the Supreme Court by arguing “it is within the powers of the Scottish Parliament to prepare for the consequences for devolved matters of UK withdrawal from the EU”.
Mr Russell added: “Our Continuity Bill is an important and necessary piece of legislation to prepare Scotland’s laws for Brexit while protecting the powers of the Scottish Parliament that people voted for.
“The Scottish government has made clear it cannot recommend the Scottish Parliament consent to the Withdrawal Bill in its current form.
“Alongside the Welsh government, we have always said our preference would be to reach an agreement with the UK Government to amend the EU Withdrawal Bill to respect the powers of the devolved administrations and both governments are ready to continue meaningful talks to further discuss potential solutions.
“While the Scottish government is not opposed to UK-wide frameworks in certain areas when these are in Scotland’s interests, this must only happen with the agreement of the Scottish Parliament.”
The Welsh government also signalled their intent to defend their legislation at the Supreme Court.
A spokesperson said: “We have always said our preference is for a UK-wide withdrawal bill, which respects devolution and we continue to work with the UK Government to achieve this.
“In the meantime, our bill is a legitimate means of protecting Welsh interests and devolution settlement and we will defend any action before the Supreme Court.”
In June 2016, a majority of Scottish people voted to Remain in the EU, but most Welsh voters backed Leave.