U.K. Fights Scots' Brexit 'Negotiating Tactic' at Supreme Court

(Bloomberg) -- Scotland’s bid to ensure that it retains a high degree of authority over local issues after Brexit ran into heavy opposition from U.K. lawyers on the first day of a Supreme Court hearing in London.

Richard Keen, a lawyer for the U.K., dismissed Scotland’s rival Brexit bill as a “negotiating tactic” that in the process establishes a "a new and far-reaching legal framework.”

The case before the Supreme Court is a proxy fight between Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon, who opposes Brexit, and U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May. Sturgeon has called May’s Brexit bill a "naked power grab" that would rob Scotland of powers that had been devolved to the Scottish Parliament. The U.K. has asked the Supreme Court to reject Scotland’s Brexit proposal, leaving May’s key withdrawal legislation to stand alone.

The U.K. needs to resolve the uncertainty with the Scottish bill “otherwise it might introduce delays into the Brexit process,” said Akash Paun, senior fellow at the Institute for Government in London.

Eighteen months after the top court took center stage in an earlier Brexit battle, Keen, who serves as the U.K.’s chief lawyer in Scotland, said the Scottish bill has no understanding of the nature of any new relationship with the EU.

Scotland’s lawmakers, conscious that the country voted to remain in the EU at the time of the referendum, have resisted May’s attempt to convert EU law into British law.

U.K. ministers, who refused to engage with the Scottish Parliament, are at fault for "any uncertainty, confusion or ambiguity" stemming from two potentially conflicting bills, James Wolffe, the legal adviser to the Scottish government, said in court document for the hearing.

When Brexit last came before the Supreme Court amid a media frenzy, the judges declared that May must give lawmakers a vote before formally triggering the U.K.’s departure.

The government acknowledged the earlier ruling, with Keen saying “withdrawal from the EU is a matter for the U.K. parliament."

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.