UK internal market bill a 'full frontal assault on devolution', Nicola Sturgeon says
Nicola Sturgeon has called the UK Government’s plans for a post-Brexit ‘internal market’ a “full frontal assault on devolution”.
The First Minister made the comments as Westminister plans to reveal details of the UK Internal Market Bill which will govern how goods and standards will be regulated after the UK leaves the EU Common Market.
The bill has already attracted criticism both for its implications for devolution and for elements which would overwrite parts of the previously agreed EU withdrawal deal.
Sturgeon made the comments on Twitter while sharing a statement from the Welsh Government’s chief legal adviser, who said the UK Government’s move was equivalent to “stealing powers from devolved administration”.
She said: “The Internal Market Bill that the U.K. government will publish today is a full frontal assault on devolution.
“And to the usual “but the SNP would say that” voices, read the Welsh Government view below, rightly referring to the Bill ‘stealing’ powers from the devolved govts…”.
Sturgeon added: “this is a Bill that, by the government’s own admission, breaks international law. This UK gov is the most reckless (& to make it worse, incompetently so) and unprincipled in my lifetime.”
The Scottish Government has alleged that the bill amounted to a “power grab” on Holyrood since the first details of the plan emerged with the publication of a white paper on the bill in July.
Constitution Secretary Michael Russell at that time vowed to fight the plans “tooth and nail”.
He warned that the powers of the Scottish Parliament could be stripped away via the English court system, if the plans weren’t changed.
The UK Government has always denied this and said that none of Holyrood’s powers would be taken away as the result of the bill.
The Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross claimed that the Scottish Parliament would receive over 100 new powers as a result of leaving the EU.
The Scottish Government on Tuesday said it would be "impossible" to consent to the bill, which Russell called a "shabby blueprint that will open the door to bad trade deals and unleashes an assault on devolution the like we have not experienced since the Scottish Parliament was established."
"We cannot, and will not, allow that to happen," he added.
Controversy surrounding the bill reached new heights on Monday as it was reported that sections of the bill would in-effect change parts of the EU Withdrawal Agreement, in particular related to Northern Ireland and trade.
On Tuesday the UK Government’s Northern Ireland minister Brandon Lewis confirmed in parliament that the changes would “break international law”.
He insisted it would only do so in a “specific and limited way” only in “very tightly defined circumstances”.
The comments attracted criticism from devolved governments and the Irish Government.
On Tuesday the permanent secretary to the UK Government Legal Department, Sir Jonathan Jones, resigned in light of the bill.
The BBC reports that Jones, the government's most senior lawyer, believes the bill goes too far in breaching the government's obligations under international law.
The SNP’s justice spokesperson at Westminster, Joanna Cherry, on Tuesday night urged the UK Government’s chief legal officer for Scotland to “show some courage” and do the same.
SNP Westminster Leader Ian Blackford MP said: "The Tory power grab bill represents the biggest threat to devolution in decades, and would enable Westminster to overrule the democratic will of the Scottish Parliament.
"This is the same broken bill that has already been decisively rejected by Scotland's national parliament but Boris Johnson is trying to railroad it through anyway to undermine devolution and impose an extreme Brexit against Scotland's will.
"Yet again, the Tory government is proving it cannot be trusted to respect Scotland's wishes. Scotland has been completely ignored by Westminster throughout the Brexit process and now we face a full scale assault on the foundations of our devolution settlement.
"It's no wonder that the majority for independence is at record levels. It is clearer than ever that the only way to protect Scotland's interests and our place in Europe is to become an independent country."
Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said: “We are taking action to protect the vital UK internal market, while respecting and strengthening devolution, by ensuring that goods can continue to travel barrier-free through the UK when the Transition Period ends.
“Without this legislation there would be a serious risk to our jobs and businesses which is not surprising given the rest of the UK is Scotland’s biggest market, worth £55 billion a year, and a massive sixty per cent of all our exports.
“EU powers are also being returned to us so we can further invest in communities and businesses in Scotland to help us bounce back from the economic shock of coronavirus.
“Our proposals to safeguard the UK internal market are complementary to our ongoing work to develop UK-wide frameworks and I hope the devolved administration will work with us as we take this forward.”