Indeed. Hon. Members could be forgiven for thinking that the Bill was being rushed through without a huge amount of thought behind it—not that I would ever suggest any such thing.
The premise of the internal market on which the Bill is based is false. It seems to regard differences in policy decisions taken across different parts of the countries and nations as somehow a bad thing or an irritating bump in the road that somehow has to be smoothed out. That is devolution. The point and principle of devolution is that decisions can be made in a devolved Administration. It was designed to respect localised democracy and better meet differing priorities in different parts of the United Kingdom. Instead, under the Bill, the centralising tendencies of this unequal Union are being put into overdrive.
The Scottish Government have always recognised the importance of free trade across the isles. We have a system in place to govern trading arrangements across the UK, consisting of reserved and devolved competences. Where work is at an intersection of EU law, the four Governments can and should work jointly through the common framework process, although that involves concepts that might be difficult for Government Members to grasp: mutual trust, respect and constructive dialogue, none of which are evident in this Bill. These processes are already there to ensure the continued frictionless trade across the UK that we all want to see, and the Scottish Government happily signed up to this process—it is the correct way to proceed.
The Bill is a political move to curb the power of the devolved Administration, and if this Government continue to seek to guarantee the controlled right of UK companies to trade unhindered in every part of the UK, they should get on with it and use the processes that are already there. The processes in this Bill mean that private health companies or private water companies operating in other parts of the country could soon have a guarantee to work in Scotland, where these things are run by public companies. This is a constitutional and legislative mess.
The Bill is a blatant political move to scupper those rebellious Scots, who just do not seem to fall for the Prime Minister’s charms. He is throwing his toys out of the pram, taking a huff and saying, “It’s ma baw and ye cannae have it.” The Prime Minister had the brass neck to pretend yesterday that each devolved Administration will be “fully and equally involved” in monitoring the internal market, despite sovereignty resting wholly with the Westminster Government. If he is speaking in good faith—it could happen—Conservative Members will back our amendments tonight. They would at least require the approval of devolved Administrations, bringing at least a degree of democracy and accountability to what is, in effect, an unelected body. Surely, that has to be a simple thing to support.