MSPs vote to withhold consent from Tory Brexit power grab bill

BORIS Johnson has been urged to abandon his flagship Internal Market Bill, after the overwhelming majority of MSPs voted to withhold legislative consent.

Only the Tories backed the legislation, claiming too much focus around the post-Brexit law had been on “constitutional scaremongering”.

However, despite Holyrood rejecting the bill by 90 to 28, their vote can ultimately be ignored by the UK Government.

Though the convention is that the Westminster Parliament should not legislate in devolved areas without the Scottish Parliament’s consent, it’s not legally binding.

The aim of the controversial bill is seemingly to regulate trade between Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland after Brexit.

At its heart is a plan for mutual recognition which ultimately means rules and regulations in one nation must be accepted in the other three.

It also gives the UK Government key powers over devolved spending powers and state aid.

Opening the debate, the Scottish Government’s constitution secretary Michael Russell said the Tories were taking the same stance they had taken in the devolution referendum of 1997.

“They were against empowering their fellow citizens then, and they’re still against doing that 23 years later,” he said. 

“Leopards don’t change their spots and having been rejected then, they’ve gone on being rejected, most recently, in last December’s Westminster election.

“Despite that they are still seeking to take a wrecking ball to Scottish Parliament and Scotland’s democracy. That wasn’t in their manifesto, but it was clearly in their mind and always has been.”

Russell said the bill was “a recipe for regulatory interference and the race to the bottom”.

He argued that “no member of a Scottish Parliament elected to serve the people of Scotland could ever recommend consent to such a bill”.

He said the legislation would require the Scottish Government to “accept lower status related to food as pointed out by Food Standards Commission; to the environment as pointed out by Environment Link; and building materials as pointed out by the Royal Incorporation of Architects.

“And the scope of those powers, regardless of the views of the Parliament, or the wishes of the people of Scotland, can be unilaterally changed by UK ministers and only by UK ministers”.

Russell said it would lead to a race to the bottom, as UK ministers desperate for a post-Brexit trade deal agreed to lower standards around food.

But Tory MSP Dean Lockhart said this was a claim “utterly devoid of any factual evidence”.

He added: “The inconvenient truth for the SNP is that the UK Government has introduced higher domestic standards than the EU across a vast range of areas.

“Just weeks ago in the first major free trade agreement signed following Brexit, the economic partnership with Japan, far from lowering standards, this deal goes way beyond the scope of the EU Japan Free Trade Agreement, and has increased the number of protected geographical indications for Scottish produce.”

He said the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31 would lead to a “power surge” with Holyrood “enjoying more than 100 new additional powers coming from the EU, making it more powerful than ever”.

The Tory added: “But as we all know, the SNP wants to surrender every single one of these powers back to the EU in what would be the biggest power surrender this parliament has ever seen.”

Green MSP Patrick Harvie called the legislation an extraordinary threat.

He said: “Where mutual respect genuinely exists between the jurisdictions, co-operation is possible, even when political parties with very different politics are in power. The last 20 years shows us that.

“But this shocking power grab is what makes co-operation impossible. There is no incentive at all for the UK Government to negotiate or compromise if it has already taken the decision to ignore and overrule Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and even international law.”

Labour’s James Kelly said the Tories were trying to trash devolution.

He accused them of “fuelling the fire of those in this debate who’ve argued for a second independence referendum.”

Speaking after the vote, Russell said it was time for the UK government to “abandon this deeply damaging bill.”



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