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Sturgeon threatens legal challenge to market bill

Nicola Sturgeon speaking

Nicola Sturgeon: bill is an ‘abomination’ (pic: Terry Murden)

The Scottish Government is continuing to consider a legal challenge to Boris Johnson’s Internal Market Bill which it regards as an attack on the powers devolved to Holyrood.

Former Tory prime ministers Sir John Major and Theresa May joined criticism of the Bill, which UK ministers have acknowledged will breach international law.

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove will meet EU official Maros Sefcovic in London amid growing concerns over the UK government’s plan to re-write the Withdrawal Agreement and in particular how it could undermine the protocol designed to prevent a hard border returning to Ireland. The EU says it wants “clarifications” on the implementation of the agreement.

The UK government says the bill sets out how the UK will operate as a single market when the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December.

The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy says it will establish “world-leading high standards for consumers, workers, food, animal welfare and the environment.”

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It says that from 1 January more than 100 powers in a range policy areas previously exercised at an EU level will flow directly to the devolved administrations in Holyrood, Cardiff Bay and Stormont for the first time.

However, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the plan will be fiercely resisted by the Scottish Government “at every turn” as it tramples over powers currently held by the devolved administrations.

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.”

She said it will mean “a race to the bottom” on things such as 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,” she said.

“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.    

“And 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.

We will fight tooth and nail against this shameless bid to reverse the devolution of power

– Nicola Sturgeon

The First Minister added: “The Scottish Government – and the SNP at Westminster – will fiercely resist this attack on the powers of our national Parliament.

“We will fight tooth and nail against this shameless bid to reverse the devolution of power which was so overwhelmingly endorsed by the people of Scotland in the referendum of 1997. 

“It is not just the Scottish Government and the SNP which is resisting these plans – the Labour Welsh Government has also made clear 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.  All parties – including the Scottish Tories – have a duty now to protect and defend the powers democratically endorsed by the people of Scotland.

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“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.”

Call to reveal secret poll

The SNP has renewed calls for the Tory government to come clean over secret polling of the Scottish electorate on independence and an alleged Cabinet briefing that puts support for Yes at 56% – the highest recorded.

On Monday, Mujtaba Rahman, a professor of political risk who previously worked for the UK Treasury wrote in the Guardian that “ministers are increasingly nervous that a Scottish breakaway is on the cards” – and that the Cabinet was told latest polling puts support for independence at 56%.

Tommy Sheppard MP has written to Alister Jack – a member of the Cabinet – asking where the 56% figure comes from and urged him to release all the data the UK government holds on support for Scottish independence through secret, taxpayer-funded polling.

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