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The Scottish Government’s Constitution Secretary Michael Russell said proposals to enshrine a UK “internal market” after Brexit would seriously undermine devolution. He branded the controversial proposals a “power grab” on responsibilities which are currently held by Holyrood.
In a letter to Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, Mr Russell said he is concerned about proposals for an external body which would “test” whether a bill in Holyrood affected the UK’s internal trade market.
The letter also details concerns about plans for a “mutual recognition regime”, which he said could lower regulatory standards beyond what the Scottish Parliament found acceptable.
Mr Russell stressed that the proposals which are yet to be formally published “ignore the reality and history of devolution” and would be opposed by the Scottish Government.
It comes following major concerns that the UK Government may compromise on regulatory standards in pursuit of trade deals.
It comes as the deadline to extend the Brexit transition period with the EU ended at the end of last month despite a deadlock over a “level-playing field” on trade regulations which is yet to be solved.
Discussing the letter, the MSP and senior SNP member, said: “The Tories know they can’t win an election to the Scottish Parliament so have come up with a scheme to undermine it instead.
“They are plotting, in an underhand manner, to introduce a new law which would effectively hand power to Tory ministers in devolved policy areas, under the guise of protecting what they call the so-called UK internal market after Brexit.
“Under their plans, if Westminster adopts lower standards in devolved areas, Scotland could be forced to accept them, regardless of the view of our Parliament.”
Mr Russell stressed the Scottish Government was considering setting up for “an unelected oversight body” which would be responsible for setting up a new ‘internal market’ test for any new Holyrood legislation.
Mr Russell continued in the letter: “If this law had been in force, our ability to keep tuition-free for students in Scotland while charging students from the rest of the UK, to set a minimum unit price for alcohol, or introduce a smoking ban before the rest of the UK could all have been in jeopardy.
“This scheme amounts to using Brexit as a cover to mount the biggest power grab on the Scottish Parliament yet and we will do all we can to stop it from happening.”
However, Mr Gove accused him of trying to “confect” a political row with Westminster.
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A spokesman for Michael Gove said: “It’s disappointing that the SNP administration has tried to confect yet another political row to pursue their separatist agenda over rumours.
“The SNP withdrew from work on the UK internal market over a year ago, have since challenged the existence of the UK internal market and now threaten our common frameworks programme.
“As we cautiously emerge from coronavirus and focus on our country’s recovery, we will consider how to bring people in the UK closer together, not put up more barriers.”
The spokesman outlined that sixty percent of Scottish trade was with the rest of the UK, worth over £50 billion to Scotland stressing “we won’t let the SNP threaten that”.
They added: “The UK Government will put the interests of people and businesses in Scotland, and right across the UK, first.
“We will respond carefully to this letter shortly and will continue working closely with all three devolved administrations.”
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