Last week’s rejection of the UK Internal Market Bill by MSPs was to be expected as parties from across the political spectrum voiced concerns about its impact on Devolution and the unity of the United Kingdom.
The Scottish parliament voted 90-28 for a motion which withheld consent for the bill, the Scottish Conservatives remaining the only group to oppose the move.
Recently, concerns were raised by the Bar Association over the bill's impact on British rule of law while the Scottish Government’s secretary for the constitution said the proposal would “take a wrecking ball to Scotland's parliament and democracy".
What is the Internal Market Bill?
The legislation aims to unify standards for goods and services in the UK following the removal of EU regulations in this area, ensuring the barrer-free trading of goods and services across the country.
In effect, the legislation will prohibit the devolved governments from favouring goods from one region of the UK over another which means they would be barred from directly or indirectly banning imports of goods that contravene devolved legislation on issues such as food and drink.
Section 46 of the act also allows the British government to directly fund projects in devolved nations even if the ministers of said areas oppose the projects. This funding can cover devolved areas of health, education and road infrastructure.
The bill’s impact on the authority of the devolved legislatures and British obligations internationally have been raised when voicing concerns about its implications.
Why is the bill controversial?
Much of the controversy around the bill came to a head when Northern Ireland secretary, Brandon Lewis, admitted the bill would “break international law” in “a very specific and limited way”. It would conflict with the EU Withdrawal Agreement which Britain signed, specifically, the Northern Ireland protocols.
This section essentially states that the border between the EU and UK post-Brexit will be set at the Irish Sea, meaning the north will still follow EU trade standards.
By forcing the region to accept UK-wide standards, the government is breaking this principle and forcing goods that do not fit EU standards into the bloc.
Devolved governments have also argued that it would weaken the decision making powers of the legislatures as devolved issues could be upended by UK ministers while bypassing the devolved governments on key issues. It could also undermine strategies to, for example, lower plastic in packaging as they’d still be obliged to accept goods that do not meet this regulation.
What is the government’s view?
The government has defended the need to create an internal market of goods in the UK as European funding and trade standards end.
The Scottish Conservatives have generously claimed it would protect 545,000 jobs in Scotland as 60% of Scotland’s trade comes from the rest of the UK.
However, remarks by Scottish Tory MP for West Aberdeenshire, Andrew Bowie, only increased cries of a ‘power grab’ when he stated: “The UK government is back in Scotland. Get used to it.”