United Kingdom Internal Market

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

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Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

I know—“quite well” is high praise from me. He spoke about balance, proportionality and having some form of dispute resolution process. He was right about that, but I regret that he is not prepared for that dispute resolution process to include greater involvement of the nations and regions of the UK in a democratic way. That would help to solve the issues that John Mason, Tom Arthur and Bruce Crawford rightly talked about and would create rules that we could all have a role in. We all value economic co-operation, in the UK or across the EU, especially in these times of the pandemic. It is really important that we have that, and that we try to work together.

Yesterday in

The Scotsman

, Stephen Phillips, who is on the Brexit group at the law firm CMS, made this point particularly well

“In the EU system, no member state is powerful enough to dictate standards and there is a complex oversight system involving the EU Commission, Council of Ministers, national governments, and the European Parliament to create broad consensus.”

That is all that we are trying to seek in these circumstances.

Australians view their own system this way:

“Mutual recognition of standards is a decentralised means of harmonising regulation. Each State is able to pursue its own approach while meeting minimum national standards, and a cumbersome and centralising process of establishing uniform national standards is avoided. In the long run, however, mutual recognition promotes increased uniformity of regulation.”

I think that they put that very well.

The Law Society of Scotland has looked into the issue in some depth, too. It points out that England and Scotland already diverge in the law relating to building regulations: the Building Act 1984 is for England and Wales, and the Building (Scotland) Act 2003 is for Scotland. Building regulations are now on the UK Conservatives’ list of areas on which decisions will be taken in Whitehall.

The Law Society of Scotland also points to paragraph 17 of the white paper, which refers to

“processes for obtaining construction permits”.

That, too, is covered by devolved legislation under the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1947, and it is on the Conservatives’ list of areas on which decisions will be taken in Whitehall.

I have listened to the Conservatives in the debate. They have clearly set out that they want a uniform system to be imposed across the whole of the UK on their say-so alone. That problem begs the question: why do they want that?

The great suspicion—and I do not believe that the Scottish Conservatives know enough to be in a position to dispute it—is that the UK Government thinks that it needs the power to impose products such as chlorinated chicken and hormone beef across the UK in order to get a trade deal with Donald Trump. If it is not those products, it might be something equally unpalatable. That is why we fear what the Conservatives are planning to do, and it is why my amendment should be attractive across the UK.

We need a federal structure and co-operation, and we need to ensure that the nations and regions of the UK have partnership at their heart, so that people can trade in Peterborough and Perth equally according to basic standards, while recognising the power in each of the Parliaments and Administrations of the UK.

Let us agree that common approach. That is the best way to keep the UK together and have the internal market as strong as it possibly can be.