UK Government accused of treating Scotland with ‘contempt’ over Brexit Bill

Holyrood is on a collision course with Westminster after MSPs were urged to reject new legislation on post-Brexit trading arrangements amid accusations the UK government is treating Scotland with “contempt”.

Tuesday, 29th September 2020, 7:00 am

Mike Russell, the Scottish Government’s constitutional relations secretary, said he would ask MSPs not to grant consent to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Internal Market Bill in the hope it will “kill it stone dead”.

He said the move was a “defining moment” in the relationship between the SNP government in Edinburgh and the Conservative administration in London. The Scottish Parliament has to agree a Legislative Consent Memorandum (LCM) when UK legislation impacts on devolved matters.

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However, Mr Russell said the bill “undermines devolution and breaches international law” and recommending consent would “be incompatible with Scottish ministers’ responsibilities under the Ministerial Code.”

Holyrood is on a collision course with Westminster over the terms of the new Brexit Bill
Holyrood is on a collision course with Westminster over the terms of the new Brexit Bill

The bill has been heavily criticised by all devolved administrations, as well as opposition MPs and MSPs, for overriding the devolution settlements but ministers are likely to disregard objections from Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. The UK government has said the bill is required to ensure a level playing field for trade across the UK after Brexit However, it amends the EU Withdrawal Agreement and the UK government has accepted in doing so it breaches international law in a “limited way”.

Mr Johnson’s government has argued this is necessary to protect Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK if trade negotiations with Europe break down.

With a legislative consent motion due to be voted on early in October, Mr Russell said: “UK government ministers have accepted the bill will break international law. It would be equally outrageous if they decided also to break the constitutional convention that the Westminster Parliament does not legislate in devolved areas without the consent of the Scottish Parliament.

“The UK’s established constitutional rules mean that the consent of the Scottish Parliament is required for the UK government’s Internal Market Bill to proceed. If the Parliament refuses to grant consent then that should kill the Bill stone dead. It will demonstrate beyond all doubt that the UK government does not believe the UK to be a partnership of equals.

“This bill opens the door to a post-Brexit race to the bottom and will mean democratic decisions of the Scottish Parliament on public health, environmental standards, food standards and a range of other key areas can be overridden.”

The Scottish Greens accused the UK government of treating Holyrood with contempt ahead of Cabinet Minister Michael Gove’s appearance at Holyrood’s finance and constitution committee today to give evidence on the bill.

Co-leader and finance spokesperson Patrick Harvie said: “As well as breaching international law it is a direct threat to Scotland’s ability to act in clearly devolved areas, and will destroy any remaining chance of a constructive relationship between the governments within the UK.”

He added: “We’ve seen the same contempt shown towards the Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland, where ministers even admit the bill breaches international law. The Internal Market Bill is unlawful, it’s disrespectful, it’s dangerous, and it has to be stopped.”

A UK government spokesman said: “The recommendation from the devolved administration in Scotland is disappointing.

“This bill will protect Scottish businesses and jobs by ensuring trade can continue between different parts of the UK. More than 60 per cent of Scottish exports go to England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“It is also a hugely significant act of devolution and will hand vast powers from Brussels back to Holyrood.”
Meanwhile the SNP’s leader at Westminster Ian Blackford accused Mr Johnson of “playing games” with the EU instead of protecting jobs as time runs out to agree a Brexit trade deal.

With formal trade talks resuming today, and just weeks left until the deadline for a deal, Mr Blackford said the UK government had made a “grave error” by refusing to extend the transition period beyond the end of this year.

He said: “A catastrophic no deal is now a real possibility unless there is an immediate U-turn. Even the thin deal the Tories say they want would leave Scotland poorer and worse off.”

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