THERESA May is preparing to make a last-ditch bid to get Edinburgh’s agreement on Brexit as her latest “considerable offer” to Nicola Sturgeon was rejected out of hand by the Scottish Government.

With Whitehall set to intensify talks to get Holyrood’s consent to its EU Withdrawal Bill, David Lidington, effectively the Prime Minister’s deputy, for the first time pointed to a contingency plan to “protect” British business should MSPs continue to oppose the flagship legislation.

A source close to the First Minister has made clear the Scottish Government “will not budge” on what it sees as a point of fundamental principle; that all 111 devolved powers and responsibilities coming from Brussels post-Brexit should go directly to Holyrood with none being parked, however temporarily, at Westminster.

The First Minister is today due to give a keynote speech, featuring Brexit, at the annual conference of the ABI, the insurance industry body, in London.

With time running out before the deadline for the UK Government to table its amendment to Clause 11 of the bill – Thursday, March 22 – The Herald understands another meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee is due to take place in the next few days; one took place only last week.

Also, the Prime Minister is believed to be intent on chairing a full plenary session before the key European Council also on March 22 by which time London wants to wrap up a deal with the EU27 on the transition period.

The UK Government believes it has made a significant compromise, accepting that most of the 111 powers and responsibilities should go swiftly to Holyrood after Brexit Day. No 10 described it as a “considerable offer”.

However, on 25 of the powers, covering such things as agriculture, fisheries and environmental protection, the Conservative Government wants UK-wide frameworks, so the country’s internal market is protected. 

Until such frameworks are agreed, it does not want any action by the Scottish Government to lead to divergence and so has proposed Whitehall having a “safety brake”. 

But the Scottish Government believes this is a restriction on devolution and continues to amount to a power-grab by London.

In a keynote speech in North Wales, Mr Lidington noted the “vast majority of powers” would go straight to Holyrood following withdrawal, a move he described as a “very big change” to the bill and a “significant step forward in these negotiations”.

But he explained some powers were “clearly related to the UK as a whole and will need to continue to apply in the same way across all four nations in order to protect consumers and businesses who buy and sell across the UK; in all parts of what we might call the United 
Kingdom’s common market”. 

Michael Russell for the Scottish Government was dismissive of the UK minister’s remarks, saying: “However they try to dress this up, the reality is the UK Government is using Brexit to try to take control of devolved powers without the agreement of the Scottish Parliament.”