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Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee

Letter to the Committee on the Policy Statement and Annual Report for the Continuity Act

Letter from the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture to the Convener, 29 October 2021

Dear Clare,

I am writing to you in accordance with the Scottish Government’s obligations under Part 1 of the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Continuity) (Scotland) Act 2021.

This is firstly to provide a draft policy statement explaining the approach, factors to be taken into account and process to be followed when considering use of the regulation making power under section 1 of the Act. This statement is laid in the Scottish Parliament in draft in accordance with section 7(3) of the Act for a period of 28 days. I look forward to considering members representations on the draft in preparation of our final document.

I am also writing to provide the Scottish Government’s first report as to how the section 1 regulation making power has been used since its commencement until 31 August 2021, how it has been considered for use and how it is planned to be used over the coming reporting year. This report must also set out how the use, and planned use, of the power has furthered, or will further, the purpose of the power in section 1 to contribute towards maintaining and advancing standards. This report is laid in draft in accordance with section 11(1) for a period of 28 days, and I look forward to considering members representations on the intended future use of the power in preparing our final report.

Scotland’s commitment to remain close to the EU lies behind our firm intention to maintain alignment with the EU where appropriate, in a manner that contributes towards maintaining and advancing standards across a range of policy areas. It will do so to protect the health and wellbeing of people in Scotland, maintain Scotland’s international reputation, and by protecting and continuing to advance the high standards that Scotland enjoys, ease the process of Scotland’s to return to the EU.

This is achieved in a range of different ways and Ministers are making use of whichever means is most appropriate for the circumstances of each case. Although we have not yet needed to call upon the power provided in section 1 of the Act, this is critical in maintaining the Scottish Government’s ability to make subordinate legislation where appropriate, in order to ensure we can keep devolved Scots law aligned with EU law as it develops.

As you know, the Scottish Government profoundly regrets both the UK Government’s decision to leave the EU and the terms on which it has happened. This decision was taken against Scotland’s wishes and goes firmly against our outward-facing and internationalist ethos. Brexit has highlighted just how differnent the approach to the European Union is in Scotland compared to the UK.

The tradgedy of the COVID pandemic has highlighted the interconnectedness of the modern world. EU nationals have made a critical contribution in responding to the crisis in communities across Scotland, yet the UK immigration system completely disregards key sectors that we have relied upon during the pandemic. Freedom of movement is critical to Scotland’s prosperity, yet the devolved settlement does not refect this. This is but one example that may explain why the people of Scotland have made clear on a number of occasions that Scotland should continue to be part of the EU, and the Scottish Government has made clear that the people of Scotland should have the right to choose their own future.

The Scottish Government’s European Strategy, The European Union’s Strategic Agenda for 2020-24: Scotland’s Perspective published in 2020 and the paper Steadfastly European: Scotland’s past, present and future earlier this year reaffirm Scotland’s commitment to work in partnership with the EU to realise our shared values and address global challenges.

Scotland remains an inclusive European nation – we share with the EU a vision for Europe that embodies democratic values, promotes the wellbeing of all of society, rises fully to the challenge of the global climate emergency and supports a sustainable economic recovery from the global pandemic. Brexit has not changed the EU's importance to Scotland nor our commitment to it. Scotland may lie at the edge of Europe, but we have always seen ourselves at its heart and in the Scottish Government's view the best future for Scotland would be as an independent nation and a member of the European Union in its own right.

I will also take this opportunity to provide the committee with a final report on the Scottish Government’s implementation of EU law from the period from 17 December 2019 until 31 December 2020. This covers the final period of reporting up until the point the UK left the European Union on 31 January 2020, and during the period of transition during which time the UK remained required to implement EU law.

As you will know such reports are provided under the agreement on intergovernmental relations between the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government, due on a 6 monthly basis but, as I understand has been discussed between our respective officials, this had not been possible until later this year due to prioritisation of the COVID-19 response.

This final report is provided to both close the legislative record of Scotland within the EU, and to mark the beginning of our commitment to maintain and advance the standards that the UK’s membership of the EU have brought us. For nearly 50 years Scotland has been a fully integrated part of the EU; woven into the European economy and benefitting from the high standards of the EU's social and regulatory protections. Through our membership of the European Single market and Customs Union, Scotland has embraced EU membership and in turn contributed to the EU's success.

I would welcome the opportunity to discuss these documents with the committee further, and look forward to members scrutiny of the detail provided.

Yours sincerely,
Angus Robertson


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