Suggestions the Scottish Government walked away from talks aimed at establishing common frameworks for post-Brexit relations in the UK are “categorically untrue”, Scottish Constitution Secretary Mike Russell has said.
UK small business minister Paul Scully had said the controversial Internal Market Bill had to be introduced at Westminster as a direct result of the Scottish Government ending the talks.
His comments came as the row between ministers in Edinburgh and London over the Bill continues – with the Scottish Government having confirmed it will not give its consent to legislation it regards as a “power grab”.
But despite that, Holyrood ministers insist talks to develop common frameworks – which would create common standards throughout the UK for goods and services after the end of the Brexit transition period – are still going on.
Meanwhile a report from the Cabinet Office, published earlier this month, said “productive collaborative work continues” between the UK Government and the devolved administrations on this.
The report, which covered the period March 26 to June 25, said there had been five meetings in that time involving Cabinet Office senior officials and their counterparts in the devolved administrations.
“Common frameworks are being developed through constructive discussions between the UK Government and devolved administrations,” it said.
But speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme on Wednesday, Mr Scully said: “Part of the reason that we’re in this place in the first place is that we’re dealing with common frameworks to build things to consensus.
“But the Scottish Government pulled out of that some time ago, so we need to get them back to the table to make sure we can build that consensus because this is good for Scottish business, this is good for continuity of Scottish business as we leave the transition phase.”
Mr Russell, who was giving evidence to Holyrood’s Finance and Constitution Committee, insisted Mr Scully’s assertion was “absolutely untrue”.
He said: “That is categorically untrue. We have been working solidly on the frameworks with the UK Government, and I said to this committee the last time that I appeared in front of it: We wish to complete that process, we wish them to be negotiated and agreed and we will operate as if they’re all in place from January 1 next year, the day after the transition.
“There’s no danger at all of difficulty with the [UK] single market.”
Mr Russell claimed the UK Government would prefer the Bill it has proposed to common frameworks “because they wish to force the devolved administrations – all of them – to accept really bad trade deals and much lower standards”.
He asked Mr Scully to withdraw remarks he said were “made out of ignorance”, with Mr Russell adding that he believes the UK Government is attempting to “rewrite history”.
Under questioning from Tory MSP Murdo Fraser, Mr Russell said the Scottish Government had walked away from talks on the early stages of the Bill, not common frameworks.
He said: “We refused to enter into discussions on the internal market, because the internal market was going to lead to where we are now.”