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Welsh and UK Governments end Brexit bill dispute

Welsh and Scottish First Ministers have been united in their opposition Credit: PA, Daniel Leal-Olivas

A long-running dispute between Welsh and UK Governments over plans to share out EU powers post-Brexit has ended, meaning the two governments won't now take the argument to court.

But it also means the end of an alliance between ministers from Cardiff and Edinburgh which has seen Carwyn Jones and Nicola Sturgeon battling what they call a 'power grab.'

Agreement has come after the UK Government offered further changes to its EU Withdrawal Bill, which have been accepted by Welsh ministers but not their Scottish counterparts.

Until now both have been angry that the bill would see some powers over rules and regulations that are the responsibility of devolved administrations remaining in London when they return from Brussels instead of being transferred to Cardiff and Edinburgh.

After months of talks failed to produce an agreement, the two governments took steps to introduce their own laws to ensure they gained those powers, known as Continuity Bills. Ministers in London referred those bills to the Supreme Court which could have overturned them. You can read more detail of the background of this complicated dispute by clickinghere.

The Finance Secretary, Mark Drakeford, who's been leading for the Welsh Government in the negotiations said that it was a workable deal.

This is a deal we can work with which has required compromise on both sides. Our aim throughout these talks has been to protect devolution and make sure laws and policy in areas which are currently devolved remain devolved and this we have achieved.

The original draft Bill meant powers already devolved would have been clawed back by the UK Government post-Brexit and only ministers in London would have had the right to decide if and when they were passed back to the devolved parliaments. This was totally unacceptable and went against the will of the people of Wales who voted for devolution in two referendums.

We are now in a different place. London has changed its position so that all powers and policy areas rest in Cardiff, unless specified to be temporarily held by the UK Government. These will be areas where we all agree common, UK-wide rules are needed for a functioning UK internal market.

London's willingness to listen to our concerns and enter serious negotiations has been welcome. In a devolved UK the respective governments need to deal with each other as equals and this agreement is a step in the right direction.

This approach must now continue as we prepare for leaving the EU and the next phase of talks with Brussels. Make no mistake; the Welsh Government will continue to make sure Wales’ voice is heard loud and clear so we can secure a Brexit that protects devolution, jobs and our economy.

– Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford AM

The Scottish Government continues to oppose the move. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has written to the Prime Minister explaining her continued disagreement while Brexit minister Mike Russell has also set out the SNP government's objections.

Tomorrow we expect the UK Government to publish further amendments to clause eleven.

We have given them serious and respectful consideration but we as a government are absolutely and unanimously clear that we cannot support any proposal ... without the agreement of the Scottish Parliament.

And the UK Government’s latest proposals continue to give Westminster the power to prevent the Scottish Parliament from passing laws in certain devolved policy areas and while we expect the amendments to include the addition of a sunset clause the restrictions on our use of these powers would last for up to seven years. While any constraint placed on the UK Government will be purely voluntary.

The effect of the UK Government’s latest proposal remains this: the Scottish Parliament’s powers could be restricted without consent. This is not something the Scottish Government could recommend the Parliament approves.

– Mike Russell MSP, Scottish Brexit Minister

David Lidington, the Cabinet Office minister who's been leading negotiations between the three governments described the agreement as 'a significant achievement.'

I am very pleased that the many months of detailed negotiation have got us to a point where we have now reached an agreement with the Welsh Government on changes to the Bill. This is a significant achievement that will provide legal certainty, increase the powers of the devolved governments and also respect the devolution settlements. The UK Government has made considerable changes to the EU Withdrawal Bill to address issues that have been raised in Parliament and by the devolved administrations.

It is disappointing that the Scottish Government have not yet felt able to add their agreement to the new amendments that Ministers and officials on all sides have been working on very hard over recent weeks. I thank them for that effort and hope that they may still reconsider their position. All governments agree that it would be best for all parts of the UK if we had an agreed way forward on the EU Withdrawal Bill.

– David Lidington MP, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

However Plaid Cymru's leader Leanne Wood condemned what it described as a 'backroom deal' that results in 'selling Wales down the river.'

By capitulating to Westminster on the EU Withdrawal Bill, the Labour Government is selling Wales down the river.

This is a bare-faced Westminster power grab which undermines the will of the people of Wales who voted for more powers in two referendums.

By doing a backroom deal with the Tories in the UK Government, Labour Welsh ministers are yet again reminding us of Labour's belief that Westminster is superior to Wales.

While Labour capitulates, Plaid Cymru will keep challenging this Westminster power grab and protecting Welsh democracy every step of the way.

– Leanne Wood AM, Plaid Cymru leader