United Kingdom Internal Market

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 18th August 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Alex Rowley Alex Rowley Labour

Discussions on the common frameworks were progressing under Theresa May’s leadership, but since Boris Johnson came into power, he has completely ditched them. Boris Johnson seems to have no respect for devolution or for the Governments of the other nations. That will lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom—by Boris Johnson.

Presiding Officer, when it comes to devolution, you do not have to take my word for it. NFU Scotland had this to say about the Tory plans:

“NFU Scotland supports the intention ... to ensure that the UK Internal Market continues to operate as it does now—with free movement of goods and services produced to the same basic regulatory standards.

However, it is the clear view of NFU Scotland, and the other faming unions of the UK, that the proposals pose a significant threat to the development of Common Frameworks and to devolution.”

It also said that

“The proposal on ‘mutual recognition’ ... raises the potential for Common Frameworks to be rendered meaningless.”

NFU Scotland

“is clear that Common Frameworks would provide the most effective alternative to manage ... divergence ... whilst respecting devolution, and so enable the UK Internal Market to operate without friction or distortion.”

The UK internal market proposals appear to

“limit the devolved administrations’ ability to act if any standards were lowered and give the UK Government a final say in areas of devolved policy, such as agriculture, the environment or animal health and welfare.”

I do not think that the NFUS is trying to play constitutional politics; it is saying what is right for its members and for the majority of the people of Scotland. Not only are the Tories trying to undermine devolution, they are trying to roll back devolution. That cannot, under any circumstances, be allowed to happen.

It is not only in agriculture that there are concerns. Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems states that the UK Government’s proposed approach to the UK internal market is deeply concerning, and its apparently wide scope to the commitment to frictionless trade risks undermining the ability of devolved Administrations to effectively implement important public health measures that meet the needs and protect the health of the local population.

Those are not organisations playing politics. They are organisations warning that this legislation will be damaging for Scotland.

It was interesting that, in a briefing that it circulated, the Royal Society of Edinburgh welcomed the three key objectives that are set out in the white paper. Those are:

“to continue to secure economic opportunities across the UK ... to continue competitiveness and enable citizens across the UK to be in an environment that is the best place in the world to do business” and

“to continue to provide for the general welfare, prosperity and economic security of all our citizens.”

People might ask what there is not to like about those objectives. However, the RSE briefing paper goes on to state that it is not convinced that the legislation that is proposed in the white paper is required to achieve those objectives.

I agree, and that is why we are supporting the Scottish Government’s motion today. To be clear, we require work across all four nations to agree a much stronger institutional framework for the development and enhancement of the UK internal market. However, that will not be achieved through the white paper and the proposed legislation that has come from the Westminster Tory Government. That is why it must be withdrawn.

Many organisations across Scotland have raised concerns, and they all need to be listened to. Another issue, which was highlighted by the group Radical Options for Scotland and Europe, is the powers of this Parliament to be able to give financial assistance to commercial activities for the purpose of promoting or sustaining economic development and employment. Those powers are at risk.

It is fitting to finish with the statement from the RSE on subsidiarity and proportionality:

“The principles of subsidiarity (that action should be taken at the most local level practicable) and proportionality (that this action should only be broad enough to achieve its aims and no more) are important mechanisms of the European Single Market in countering accusations of centralisation ... no such principles currently exist in the UK, or in relation to devolution”.

If a legislative solution is needed for the UK internal market, the RSE advocates including subsidiarity and proportionality as the mechanisms for guarding against inappropriate UK-wide legislation that would damage the devolved settlement. Therefore, the Tories must think again. If they want to damage the United Kingdom beyond recognition, they should continue with their actions and continue to support Boris Johnson.

I move amendment S5M-22437.1, to insert at end:

“and these proposals would hinder the capacity to utilise state aid interventions, including public ownership, to generate locally-rooted economic development grounded in local democracy.”