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Westminster’s lack of engagement with Scotland over Brexit ‘foolish’, MSPs told

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Westminster’s lack of engagement with Scotland over Brexit has been branded foolish by the country’s Rural Economy Secretary.

Fergus Ewing told the Holyrood’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee there had been no “meaningful” engagement between Westminster and Holyrood on the future of the sector ahead of the end of the transition period.

The future of fishing, farming and food standards were some of the major issues during the Brexit referendum and all would have an impact on Scotland.

However, Mr Ewing said: “I’ve participated in many meetings with the UK Government and I’ve always sought to have a constructive relationship with the four Defra secretaries that have come and gone.

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“But I think that it would be fair to say that the engagement hasn’t been meaningful.”

Representatives of the Scottish Government have not been involved in negotiations with the EU despite requests for this to be the case, Mr Ewing said.

The Cabinet Secretary said there had been “courtesy, there’s been lots of interchange and there’s been work on frameworks”, but the Scottish Government has not been involved in the “really big decisions”, despite requests.

Fergus Ewing

Later in the session, Mr Ewing said, despite a direct request to Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove, the Scottish Government was not included in negotiations on fishing rights.

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He said: “This is just a very foolish approach. Frankly, the Scottish officials have the knowledge about Scottish fishing interests.

“I’m afraid the UK officials don’t have the same degree of knowledge, probably because it’s not their direct responsibility, therefore they’re not so familiar with the highly complex issues involved and this is extremely unfortunate and potentially damaging.”

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Mr Ewing also said some UK officials had looked to legislate in devolved areas, making him “extremely concerned”.

He told the committee: “UK officials seem to think that it is for them to take decisions on devolved issues and I am raising this with (UK Environment Secretary) George Eustice.”

Mr Ewing did not say what decisions have been made by UK officials or what attempts had been made to take decisions in devolved areas.

Meanwhile, the Rural Economy Secretary was asked about a possible cash injection from the UK Government’s Shared Prosperity Fund for Scottish farmers.

The controversial fund will allow the UK Government to spend cash directly in Scotland, regardless of whether or not the area is under Holyrood control.

It would accept direct applications from councils, businesses, community groups and MPs.

However, Mr Ewing said the only thing known about the fund is its name.

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He said: “It’s becoming like a sad joke at the moment.

“There’s about as much facts and evidence at the moment re: the UK Government’s plans about this UK Shared Prosperity Fund as there is an evidential basis to the source of funding of Santa Claus’ largesse.”

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A UK Government spokesman said: “It is untrue that our engagement with the Scottish Government is not meaningful.

“Ministers from the Scottish Government are invited to regular meetings of the Exit Operations (XO) Cabinet Committee.

“This is in addition to various further official and ministerial engagements, including six Joint Ministerial Council meetings on EU negotiations this year, with another meeting tomorrow.

“The UK Shared Prosperity Fund will help to level up and create opportunity across the UK and we will work closely with the devolved administrations and other interested parties across the UK as we develop the fund.”

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