Theresa May was in Brussels again this week looking for help to sell her Brexit deal to MPs. Natalie Mauchline has more on this and the week’s other Brexit developments.

Backstop Negotiations

Theresa May spent the week in Brussels attempting to amend the Withdrawal Agreement, as demanded from her colleagues at Westminster who want alternative backstop arrangements. During the week, European Council President, Donald Tusk, attracted controversy after remarking that there was a “special place in hell” for politicians who had supported leaving the EU without a clear plan. Following “robust but constructive talks”, a joint UK-EU statement was released announcing that more talks on the Agreement should take place. Today, Theresa May is meeting with her Irish counterpart, Leo Varadkar, who remains committed to the backstop to prevent a hard border in Ireland. Meanwhile, with 49 days to go, other parties continue to criticise the Prime Minister’s decision not to extend Article 50. They will have the opportunity to voice their frustration when there is another vote on the deal next Thursday.

 

The First Minister visits North America

Nicola Sturgeon has been on a five day trip to North America, speaking at Georgetown University and opening the new Scottish Government office in Ottawa. She also visited the UN in New York and became the first global advocate for the #HeForShe campaign. The First Minister criticised the UK Government’s failure to produce an achievable plan in the lead up to Brexit and argued that Scotland’s interests had been “consistently ignored”. She took the opportunity to speak on the timing of a second independence referendum, contending that it should only take place after “some conclusion” had been reached in the Brexit process. Back in January, she said she would lay out plans for the referendum in the next two months, meaning an update is likely to come soon.

 

Devolution of Powers

Brexit has highlighted the cracks in the UK’s devolution system. The first ministers of both Scotland and Wales have called on the Prime Minister to request an immediate extension to Article 50 and to rule out leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement. Meanwhile, Scottish Ministers withdrew their consent for Brexit regulations on the Creative Europe and Europe for Citizens programmes. The Scottish Government previously approved the UK instrument, but changed its mind in light of new information which showed Scottish culture organisations would be directly funded by the UK Government. Ministers said this would be an “unprecedented and inappropriate” encroachment on devolved competences. At a meeting of the Scottish Affairs Committee earlier this week, Scottish politicians gave evidence on the relationship between Holyrood and Westminster, with discussions covering the usefulness of the joint ministerial committee and role of Scottish secretary.