The UK Government will press ahead with controversial Brexit legislation, even if the Scottish Parliament refuses to grant formal consent for it, the Scottish Secretary has said.
Alister Jack insisted pushing the UK Internal Mark Bill through Westminster – even without the backing of Holyrood – is the “right thing to do”.
His comments came as Scottish Tory MSP and legal academic Adam Tomkins said it was “highly likely that the the Bill is going to have to be significantly and substantially amended before it is enacted”.
Prof Tomkins, a law professor at Glasgow University, spoke after the UK Government’s most senior Scottish legal adviser, Lord Keen, quit as Advocate General for Scotland as a result of the Bill including controversial plans to break international law by overriding the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.
Speaking about Lord Keen’s resignation, Prof Tomkins said: “I’m very sad to see him go, he has been an outstanding Advocate General.”
Finance ministers from the devolved administrations in Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff met on Thursday to voice their collective concerns about the legislation.
Despite being told it was “extremely likely” that Holyrood would not grant legislative consent for the Internal Market Bill, the Scottish Secretary indicated the UK Government would press ahead.
He was challenged on the issue when he appeared before MPs on the Scottish Affairs Committee, with panel chairman Pete Wishart asking if the UK Government would “accept that rejection from the Scottish Parliament” or if it would “as it usually does, just ignore the Scottish Parliament and legislate anyway”.
The Sewel Convention, which has been in place since the Scottish Parliament was established, sets out that Westminster will “not normally” legislate in devolved areas without the express consent of those administrations.
Mr Jack said: “We are legislating because under the Sewel Convention there is this convention of not normal.
“This legislation is required because we are leaving the European Union – that was not, when the Scottish Parliament was established, something that was envisaged.
“So we now need to pass bills to secure the United Kingdom economy and secure the internal market… that is the right thing to do.”
With the Bill putting in place arrangements to ensure free trade can continue between the four nations of the UK when the Brexit transition period comes to an end, he stressed that the bulk of Scottish trade is with the rest of the UK, saying it is “important that we protect that”.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already branded the Bill an “abomination” that will break devolution.
But Mr Jack strongly denied Scottish Government claims that the legislation is a Westminster “power grab”, insisting it would “strengthen the United Kingdom”.
He said: “Not a single power is being taken away. All powers that the Scottish Government have now they will still have, and they will have over 100 more powers.
“The Scottish Parliament is the most powerful devolved parliament in the world and it is only about to get more powerful. There is no question that is the case.
“The idea that this is wrecking devolution is fanciful and it is fanciful more so when it comes from a party that wants to destroy it altogether and move to independence.”
Scottish Finance Secretary Kate Forbes said the Bill would allow the UK Government to spend money directly in areas where power is devolved to Holyrood, without requiring the consent of Scottish ministers.
She said: “It puts at risk funding for a whole host of capital programmes – schools, hospitals and infrastructure.
“It reverses the devolution process and we will oppose any attempt to bypass the Scottish Parliament and Government, which are elected by the people of Scotland.”
Welsh finance minister Rebecca Evans said she was “deeply concerned that the Bill gives UK ministers, for the first time since devolution, powers to fund activity in areas which are clearly devolved to Wales”.
Conor Murphy, the finance minister in Northern Ireland, said: “The Internal Market Bill will give the British Government wide-ranging powers to make funding decisions in devolved areas.
“This is greatly concerning and could have huge implications for the Good Friday Agreement. The British Government should not interfere in funding matters which are currently the responsibility of the devolved administrations.”