Scotland will never be equal UK partner under Brexit Bill, MPs told

Boris Johnson’s controversial Brexit legislation proves Scotland will never be an equal partner in the UK, the SNP has warned.

The United Kingdom Internal Market Bill contains measures which “attack the foundations of devolution” in Scotland, according to the party’s business spokesman Drew Hendry.

He took aim at proposals for a new office to monitor the internal market, arguing such a body would have an “effective veto” over the Scottish Parliament and was part of a system in which Westminster would set standards for devolved areas.

Ministers have denied the Bill represents a power grab but instead offers a “power surge” by handing more powers to the devolved governments.

The Bill has hit the headlines in recent days for new additions which seek to override key elements of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement relating to Northern Ireland.

Prime Minister Mr Johnson has argued such changes, which would breach parts of international law, are needed to protect the trading arrangements between Great Britain and Northern Ireland should no agreement be reached with EU.

Speaking on the first day of the Bill’s committee stage, Mr Hendry said: “We cannot and we will not accept this legislation in any form.

“Under the unelected Dominic Cummings, Britain’s Prime Minister is forcing this power grab through despite overwhelming opposition from Scotland’s Parliament and MPs.

“It proves that Scotland will never ever be accepted as an equal partner in the UK.

“This attacks the foundations of devolution and gives Westminster and an unelected quango a freehand to overrule the Scottish Parliament in devolved areas, threatening our NHS, our food and environmental standards and fires the starting pistol on a race to the bottom.”

But Conservative Sir Bill Cash, chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, said: “The arguments I’ve just heard from (Mr Hendry) are in my judgment completely unjustified.

“The reality is what is intended in this Bill is to provide for independent advice and monitoring through the creation of this internal market itself, within the Competition and Markets Authority arrangements.

“What that clearly says, far from it being just a bunch of nodding donkeys, which is more or less what (Mr Hendry) is saying, in fact it will be a non-ministerial department albeit sponsored by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy – it will have an enormous amount of range of experience and knowledge, which is brought from its predecessor.”

Tory Richard Fuller (North East Bedfordshire) called for “some prudence in the implementation” of the Bill’s measures.

He said: “I welcome this Bill, clearly we want as a whole … this is a shared asset the internal market, we want it to work effectively.

“This Bill does a very good start in making … us move in the right direction for that, but we do need some prudence in the implementation of this.”

SNP Neale Hanvey (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) branded the proposed Office for the Internal Market the ‘office of inquisition’.

He said: “This office of inquisition will have the power to pass judgment on devolved laws, could quickly become the target of rich corporate lobbyists determined to see activities such as fracking go ahead against the will of the Scottish people.”

He said: “Wide-ranging powers that cut to the very heart of a devolution settlement across every policy area, powers they claim they will never use, they’re just there in case.

“Well Scotland isn’t buying it and we’re not having any of it.”

SNP colleague Alyn Smith (Stirling) added the proposed Office for the Internal Market would comprise of “a group of people who will themselves be unelected”.

He said: “For people who are against unelected bureaucrats, I can only suggest that they have a look at the reality of this Bill.”