Scottish Government will 'fight tooth and nail' against UK internal market plans, Mike Russell says
The Scottish Government will fight “tooth and nail” against UK Government proposals for a post-Brexit ‘internal market’, Michael Russell has said.
The constitution secretary said that details laid out in a white paper on how goods and standards will be regulated after the UK leaves the EU Common Market risked undermining “the basic foundations of devolution”.
Russell argued in a statement to parliament on Thursday that the internal market plans weaken the ability of the Scottish Parliament to make distinctive laws and protect Scottish interests.
The plans could possibly lead to powers of the Scottish Parliament being stripped away via the English court system, he suggested.
He said: “There is enough in this document...to make us believe that we must immediately begin a process of defending Scotland against a naked power grab.”
Unless the plans change drastically, Russell said, the Scottish Government would “fight these proposals tooth and nail, in every possible place, with no intention of giving way”.
Russell called on all MSPs to work with the government to withhold legislative consent.
Scottish Labour also criticised the plans while the Scottish Greens called the move “a threat to devolution and to Scotland’s democracy”.
The Scottish Trade Unions Congress said it was evidence the UK Government is “seeking to centralise power and promote free market dogma over the competence of the devolved parliaments”.
The UK Government insisted that the plans are not a threat to devolution or to standards in food or animal welfare.
The white paper on the ‘UK Internal Market’, published on 16 July, sets out the UK Government’s intent to enshrine a principles of ‘mutual recognition’ and ‘non-discrimination’ into law.
UK Business secretary Alok Sharma said in the introduction to the paper that this would mean “If a baker sells bread in both Glasgow and Carlisle, they will not need to create different packaging because they are selling between Scotland and England.”
Russell argued in parliament that the way the UK Government plans to apply this principle could lead to a lowering of standards across the entire UK because of changes made to standards in England as a result of negotiations for trade deals with countries such as the United States.
He said: “What the UK Government wants is not smooth trade but to take back control. And not just from the EU but from the people of Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland.”
“If the UK Government can simply change the rules for England...Scotland would just have to accept that decision,” he added.
Russell said this could lead to the UK Government overruling the Scottish Government in devolved areas, potentially undermining policies in areas such as deposit return scheme, food labelling and manufacturing, environmental regulations and alcohol minimum unit pricing.
He also said the proposals “opened the door” to private companies taking legal action in English courts to secure access Scottish service provisions or to fight certain policies.
The Welsh Government has called moves to impose the system without consulting devolved governments “deeply damaging”.
Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie the white paper was “a serious threat to the powers of the devolved nations to make decisions.”
He said: “The details reveal these proposals are not just about EU powers. It would place a veto in the hands of Boris Johnson on any devolved decision that threatens free market dogma and the interests of big business.
“This threatens our environmental, food and farming standards. It threatens Scotland’s decisions to ban fracking or prevent new nuclear power stations. It could be applied to our bold public health measures such as minimum unit pricing, and it certainly could allow further private sector involvement in our NHS.”
Scottish Labour MSP Alex Rowley agreed with Russell that many aspects of the white paper “are not right” and said that there should be mechanisms in place to ensure that decisions which could affect devolved areas are agreed by devolved governments before being implemented.
Rowley previously said the plans were "heavy handed" and were helping "drive the pro-independence narrative".
He said: "Scotland doesn’t want poor food standards imposed on us by Westminster, nor does it want anything that can threaten our NHS by increased access to foreign private markets."
But Scottish Conservative
s constitution spokesman Murdo Fraser called Russell’s statement “hysterical and misleading”.
Fraser challenged Russell to name any power currently exercised by the parliament which would be taken away under the proposals.
Russell said “every single power that the Scottish Parliament has” could be undermined and taken away based on the current proposals.
UK Government Minister for Scotland Iain Stewart said the UK Government was taking action to protect jobs, businesses and consumers in every part of the country.
He said: “The UK internal market is vital for Scottish businesses and Scottish jobs – 60 per cent of Scottish trade is with the rest of the UK, worth more than £50 billion to Scotland. We must protect that.
“The UK Government has been clear it will not sign a trade deal that will compromise our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food safety standards.
“Our proposals respect and strengthen devolution, with scores of powers returning from the EU, going straight to Holyrood.”