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The UK Government’s decision will have a detrimental effect on all aspects of Scottish rural life and will remove the standards and protections that Scotland is currently afforded. It puts Scotland at a competitive disadvantage in terms of exporting our produce to European markets, and our organic produce will lose its recognition status on the European Union market. Scottish produce could also lose the geographical indication protections that we currently enjoy.
Those are just some of the reasons why the Scottish Government entirely opposes the UK Government’s position.
Boris Johnson wrote to Donald Tusk last month to say that the UK Government wants to move away from the standards and protections that are offered by EU regulations. Does the cabinet secretary agree that that represents a threat to the future of the common frameworks project, given the implications for significant areas of devolved competence, such as environmental protection, regulations on genetically modified crops, marine policy and energy?
Yes. The agreement in October 2017 to the joint intergovernmental programme of work on common frameworks was reached when all four Administrations agreed that level playing field commitments should be maintained, should the UK leave the EU.
A move away from that shared assumption of continued regulatory alignment would have implications for the development of common frameworks, because it would widen the scope for policy divergence between the Administrations in the different parts of the UK to a much greater degree than was anticipated when work on the project began. That could be damaging to Scotland’s interests, not least in maintaining high standards in animal welfare and plant health.
I declare an interest: I am a farmer.
The UK has led the way on standards, as far as animal welfare and environmental issues are concerned, for a long number of years and there is no reason to believe that that will change, post-Brexit. Our standards could rise, post-Brexit. Does the minister recognise that?
Perhaps they will in Scotland, but I have serious concerns about that elsewhere. When we compare the previous protocol with what we have now, we see that the previous protocol set out specific environmental and climate change commitments, including non-regression in the level of environmental protection, respect for environmental principles, commitments to joint setting of minimum air quality standards and other such measures. Those commitments are not included in the revised protocol.