Ministers disagree on commitment to consult devolved administrations on trade

Ministers in the Scottish and UK governments have disagreed over whether a commitment from Westminster to consult the devolved administrations should be specifically mentioned in new post-Brexit trade legislation.

UK trade minister Greg Hands warned such a move could potentially “erode” the state of international trade as being an area reserved to the UK Government.

He insisted a “good arrangement” had been reached with regard to the UK Government’s Trade Bill, stressing Westminster would “not normally use the powers in devolved areas without the agreement of the devolved administrations”.

But his Scottish counterpart Ivan McKee said it is a “concern” this is not specifically stated in the legislation currently going through Westminster.

He made clear the Scottish Government will give formal consent to the Trade Bill, but added: “The UK Government hasn’t put anything on the face of the Bill which requires them to engage with us in the areas that are devolved and that is clearly a concern.

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“They have given commitments that they would intend not to do that, but we are concerned that is not in the face of the Bill.

“Modern trade Bills impact on a whole range of areas, which of course include many devolved areas as we know.”

Mr McKee told MSPs on Holyrood’s Finance and Constitution Committee the legislation is being brought forward to ensure current trade arrangements can continue post-Brexit.

Mr Hands said the Trade Bill is “essential in providing certainty, continuity and stability in our existing trading relationships”, telling the committee 20 continuity agreements have so far been signed involving 48 countries.

He added: “We have come to a good arrangement that we will not normally use the powers in devolved areas without the agreement of the devolved administrations, and never without consulting them the reason.

“I don’t think it is necessary or desirable to put that on the face of the Bill, which adds the potential to erode the legal status of international trade as a reserved matter.”