United Kingdom Internal Market

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

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Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

Thank you. I welcome Alex Rowley’s speech, particularly the last point that if the Tories want to damage the UK they should batter on with this plan of theirs. I will come back to that at the end, because perhaps there is a glimmer of hope there for some of us.

I welcome the fact that we are having this debate. I do not welcome—at all—the fact that we were unable to have it during the window of consultation that the UK Government set out. The main concern in my amendment is about the process and timing of this incredibly brief consultation.

The white paper on the UK internal market raises broad and complex issues. The idea that not only do we have just a four-week window of consultation for this contentious and complex area of policy, but that those four weeks are timed—almost perfectly—to coincide with the recess periods of this Parliament, the Welsh Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly is simply extraordinary—[

Interruption.

] A voice from the side has suggested that that is a remarkable coincidence, but I do not think that it is believable that it is entirely a coincidence; it is very clearly an intentional decision of the UK Government.

It knows that the proposals will be contentious in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Strong political voices, including from unionists in Wales, are strongly opposed to the measures that are being proposed. It was perfectly obvious that that would be the reaction, yet the UK Government chose deliberately to time the four-week window of consultation in a period that almost entirely covered those three recesses.

Alok Sharma, the secretary of state who is responsible for the white paper, was invited to give evidence via videoconference on the one day that the Parliament’s Finance and Constitution Committee had to take evidence on the matter, but he refused. The man had been in Glasgow just the week before. He is willing to travel here for other purposes, but he is not even willing to take part in an hour-and-a-half-long videoconference with a parliamentary committee to start answering questions on whether his plan can be held up to scrutiny. That is an extraordinary level of contempt for the parliamentary process.

Even the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee at Westminster said:

“This one month consultation is not proportionate to the importance of the issues dealt with”.

Even a parliamentary committee with a Conservative majority at Westminster made that clear. The committee went on, as others have, to talk about the importance of the substance of what is included in the white paper. It said that the proposals

“will effectively create new reservations in areas of devolved competence.”

That flies 100 per cent in the face of the commitments that were given in the wake of the Brexit referendum by supporters of the Brexit project, who said that coming out of Europe would lead to powers being transferred wholesale. They said that there would be no new reservations—well, there will be.

The PACA Committee continued by saying:

“The Government should indicate whether, in such circumstances, it would intend to override the Sewel convention.”

The UK Government needs to do more than merely indicate whether it intends to do that; it needs to give a cast-iron guarantee that that will not be done, because it would be utterly unacceptable to Scottish democracy.

The RSE paper, which has been referred to, sets out serious objections to the substance of what is proposed. It says that it is not convinced that the legislation that is proposed is required to achieve even the UK Government’s own outcomes. It says that any outcome that

“leads to the Sewel Convention being overridden should be considered a failure of intergovernmental relations.”

The RSE says that the expectation should be that, on leaving the EU, any areas of law that are no longer subject to the pre-emptive effect of EU law and which do not fall into the reserved category should go to the devolved level. That would be the clear expectation of anyone.

Mr Lockhart, who has cast his party as the supreme defenders of devolution, despite having already passed legislation to cut the powers of the Scottish Parliament without its consent, is all set to do that again.