United Kingdom Internal Market

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Alexander Burnett Alexander Burnett Conservative

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests.

Alongside my Conservative colleagues on the Finance and Constitution Committee, I was disappointed that we had to dissent from the submission as a whole to the UK Government white paper, because there were points—and parts, if they had been slightly amended—in it that we might have supported. That dissent is no reflection on the clerks or on the excellent chairing by Bruce Crawford, who in my time on the committee has excelled at getting the committee to reach consensus. However, on that occasion, with the length of the submission and shortage of time, if we had followed the normal process, our colleagues on the committee would not have appreciated it if it had begun to look as though there was an attempt to have the first submission filibustered. Hence, we took the position that we took.

However, there will still be ample time for further debate and questioning of ministers, once the bill is published.

Of course, there is much to be covered by the bill. For the internal market to continue to operate effectively, there are three guiding principles. They are that there should be no new barriers to trade, that there should be collaboration across the UK, and that there should be fair, independent and trusted adjudication.

The UK Government has already committed to working with the devolved Administrations to agree common frameworks to cover specific policy areas that are returning from the EU. The UK internal market proposals would not change that; they would build on and complement the progress that has already been made in developing common frameworks, and provide additional certainty for businesses.

As has been mentioned, shortage of time has been an issue. We can only wonder how much more informed we would be had Mike Russell not decided to pull Scottish Government civil servants out of the single-market discussions early last year. I believe that the UK Government wants to work constructively with all the devolved Administrations on the proposals, so I was pleased to hear that it has stated that the door remains open for the Scottish Government to rejoin, and it urges it to do so. I hope that Mike Russell can put aside his personal grievances and, for the benefit of Scotland, take the UK Government up on that offer.

I also think that it is clear that the UK single market is of no interest to the SNP, except as an opportunity to create division. To show how little the SNP cares for the single market’s true value, there is not a single mention of it in the 71 pages of the Scottish Government’s economic recovery plan that was published the other week. Although it has been mentioned several times today, the value of that market to Scotland clearly needs to be repeated, because the SNP seems to be particularly slow on the uptake about its importance. Once again, I note that it is 60 per cent of our trade and is worth more than £50 billion. It supports more than half a million Scottish jobs and is nearly three times as valuable as our trade with the rest of the world, and nearly four times as valuable as our trade with the EU.

However, these are evolving times, so last week I asked the cabinet secretary what the Scottish Government is doing to monitor the value to Scotland of the UK internal market. Although he said that it reviews and considers its value, that information is clearly as confidential as the Alex Salmond inquiry papers, because—sadly—it failed to appear in the economic recovery plan.

In fact, I cannot recall the SNP ever publishing the value of our largest trading market. Like the majority in Scotland, I would happier if, rather than looking for opportunities to argue for separation, the Scottish Government were to provide regular updates on the volume of trade that Scotland has with the rest of the UK, and was quick to find ways to improve on it. However, as always, it is left to the Scottish Conservatives and those who understand the important relationship of the UK internal market to defend businesses and jobs in Scotland.

The Food and Drink Federation Scotland has said:

“Many businesses within the Food and Drink manufacturing industry view the UK (and the Republic of Ireland) as an internal single market” and the Scottish Retail Consortium has said that

“Scottish consumers and our economy as a whole benefit enormously from the UK’s largely unfettered internal single market” through

“economies of scale”.

The director general of the Confederation of British Industry—an institution that is sometimes known as “the voice of Brussels”—says that the internal market principle of mutual recognition

“is essential to guard against any additional costs or barriers” in the UK. We need to protect those close economic ties and the jobs that rely on them.

It was interesting to see that the Welsh and Northern Irish submissions demonstrate not only brevity when making points that are similar to those in our submission, but much greater focus on the economic importance of the issue. Here, we have instead the usual focus of the SNP: constitutional arguments and thinking that we are better off without the UK, despite the overwhelming evidence that shows that that is not the case.

At our committee meeting last week, the cabinet secretary was keen to quote George Orwell. We certainly live in Orwellian times. The cabinet secretary might like to know that Orwell also said:

“Nationalism is power-hunger tempered by self-deception.”

The cabinet secretary might be deceiving himself with a strategy of non-co-operation, but he is not fooling anyone else.