UK’s new Brexit bill ‘will break law and break devolution’

The post-Brexit Internal Market Bill is an 'abomination' and a 'naked power grab', Nicola Sturgeon said.

The UK’s new post-Brexit Internal Market Bill is an “abomination” that as well as breaking international law is “set to break devolution”, according to Nicola Sturgeon.

In a fiercely-worded statement, the First Minister said the Westminster legislation published earlier on Wednesday is a “naked power grab” that would “cripple” Holyrood.

She urged all MSPs – including the Scottish Conservatives – to oppose the Bill, saying they have “a duty now to protect and defend the powers democratically endorsed by the people of Scotland”.

Sturgeon also suggested that had this law been in place at the time, the Scottish Government would not have been able to pass flagship legislation such as introducing minimum unit pricing for alcohol.

The row comes after UK Cabinet minister Brandon Lewis admitted proposed unilateral changes within the legislation to the EU withdrawal treaty – specifically on the Northern Ireland protocol – would “break international law”.

Regarding devolution, the dispute over the Bill centres around the return of powers to the UK from Brussels, some of which fall in areas devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

UK ministers say Scotland will be getting more than 100 new powers but Nicola Sturgeon’s government insists the legislation would allow Westminster to effectively overrule them in some devolved policy areas.

And No 10 has said the Bill would enable it to directly fund projects in Scotland even if they fall under devolved matters – against the wishes of Scottish ministers.

The Bill looks to replace the EU Common Market – which for EU members governs things such as food and environmental standards and energy efficiency regulations – with a new UK-wide internal market.

The UK Government has said this means Scotland will have to accept goods and services from the rest of the UK even if they don’t meet standards enshrined in Holyrood legislation.

The First Minister said: “The UK government are not only set to break international law – it is clear they are now set to break devolution.

“The Tories’ proposed Bill for a so-called UK internal market is an abomination. It is a naked power grab which would cripple devolution.

“The plan for mutual recognition of standards in reality means a race to the bottom when it comes to things like food standards and environmental protections.

“It would prevent the Scottish Parliament from effectively legislating in a whole range of areas, including laws covering the food people put on their tables, which is currently produced to high EU animal welfare and food safety standards.

“That could be undermined by Scotland having to accept lower standards set by a UK Government in pursuit of a US or other trade deals – and could see us forced to accept chlorinated chicken.”

Sturgeon continued: “Their plans to trample over devolved spending powers in Scotland and directly fund their own projects could see projects like Boris Johnson’s bridge to Northern Ireland being funded instead of schools and hospitals – no matter what people in Scotland choose.

“Under this Bill, the Scottish Parliament would not have been able to pass its world-leading legislation on minimum unit pricing of alcohol – a fact which will deeply concern the broad coalition of Scottish civic society which backed this vital public health measure.”

She vowed to fight “tooth and nail” against what she dubbed a “shameless bid to reverse the devolution of power which was so overwhelmingly endorsed by the people of Scotland in the referendum of 1997”.

The First Minister added that the Welsh Government, run by Labour, has also expressed “its vehement opposition to what is proposed”.

“But this power grab also poses a key test for every political party and every parliamentarian representing any part of Scotland,” Sturgeon continued.

“All parties – including the Scottish Tories – have a duty now to protect and defend the powers democratically endorsed by the people of Scotland.

“Far from returning powers to Scotland, as promised by the likes of Michael Gove, it is now crystal clear that Brexit means taking back control from Holyrood and taking control away from the Scottish people.

“That is a betrayal not just of devolution, but of the promises made in the Brexit referendum, including those in Scotland who voted Leave.

“It is also now clearer than ever that the only way to defend the powers of the Scottish Parliament is with independence.

“And when an independence referendum comes – as it will – it will no longer be a choice between independence and the status quo, but between independence and a Tory regime which is intent on crippling Holyrood.”

But Downing Street denied the Bill is a power grab and said devolved administrations will instead see a “power surge” when the transition period ends at the close of the year.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman added: “There will be no change to the powers the devolved administrations already have and the vast majority of powers with devolved competencies returning from Brussels will go straight to Holyrood, Stormont and Cardiff Bay.

“This will be a significant increase in the powers of the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Parliament, and the Northern Ireland Assembly, which are already among the most powerful devolved administrations in the world.

“Where powers are coming back to the UK Government this is to protect the economy.”

Boris Johnson’s spokesman also defended the proposed changes to override aspects of the EU withdrawal agreement regarding Northern Ireland.

He said: “The withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol aren’t like any other treaty.

“It was agreed at pace in the most challenging possible political circumstances to deliver on a clear political decision by the British people with the clear overriding purpose of protecting the special circumstances of Northern Ireland.

“It contains ambiguities and in key areas there is a lack of clarity.

“It was written on the assumption that subsequent agreements to clarify these aspects could be reached between us and the EU on the details and that may yet be possible.”

During the general election last December, the Prime Minister repeatedly called the withdrawal deal “oven-ready”.

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