First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her Scottish National Party are prepared to stand in the way of a law which would give the UK Government the power to set food and environmental standards following the nation’s exit from the bloc. Michael Russell, SNP cabinet secretary for constitutional affairs, told the Financial Times the SNP would take Westminster to court if it was given the power to force Scotland to accept new standards on food, environmental and animal welfare.
Mr Russell said: “We do not accept that this is a legitimate way of operating within devolution.
“If they pass legislation then we will have no intention of implementing that and they would have to essentially go to court to force its implementation.”
Currently devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales oversea policy areas including environment, food safety and agriculture.
But Prime Minister Boris Johnson hopes to bring those issues under the UK Government’s control with a proposed UK internal market bill after the final say was set by the EU.
Nicola Sturgeon’s government have threatened to block a post-Brexit law
The Scottish Government have threatened to take Westminster to court
Mr Russell accused British ministers of “bad faith” and warned the move would allow the to “impose what they like”.
He said proposals from the UK Government would be a “power grab” on responsibilities held by the Scottish Parliament.
In a letter to Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, Mr Russell said he was concerned about proposals for an external body which would “test” whether a bill in Holyrood affected the UK’s internal market.
The letter also detailed concerns about plans for a “mutual recognition regime”, which he said could lower regulatory standards beyond what the Scottish Parliament found acceptable.
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Mr Russell said the proposals, which have not been published, “ignore the reality and history of devolution”.
However, Mr Gove accused him of trying to “confect” a political row.
Discussing the letter, Mr Russell said: “The Tories know they can’t win an election to the Scottish Parliament so have come up with a scheme to undermine it instead.
“They are plotting, in an underhand manner, to introduce a new law which would effectively hand power to Tory ministers in devolved policy areas, under the guise of protecting what they call the so-called UK internal market after Brexit.
“Under their plans, if Westminster adopts lower standards in devolved areas, Scotland could be forced to accept them, regardless of the view of our Parliament.
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“And they are considering setting up an unelected oversight body to set a new ‘internal market’ test for any new Holyrood legislation.
“If this law had been in force, our ability to keep tuition free for students in Scotland while charging students from the rest of the UK, to set a minimum unit price for alcohol, or introduce a smoking ban before the rest of the UK could all have been in jeopardy.
“This scheme amounts to using Brexit as a cover to mount the biggest power grab on the Scottish Parliament yet and we will do all we can to stop it from happening.”
But a spokesman for Mr Gove said the SNP’s actions were a move to “confect yet another political row to pursue their separatist agenda”.
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He said: “It’s disappointing that the SNP administration has tried to confect yet another political row to pursue their separatist agenda over rumours.
“The SNP withdrew from work on the UK internal market over a year ago, have since challenged the existence of the UK internal market and now threaten our common frameworks programme.
“As we cautiously emerge from coronavirus and focus on our country’s recovery, we will consider how to bring people in the UK closer together, not put up more barriers.
“Sixty per cent of Scottish trade is with the rest of the UK, worth over £50 billion to Scotland – we won’t let the SNP threaten that.
“The UK Government will put the interests of people and businesses in Scotland, and right across the UK, first.
“We will respond carefully to this letter shortly and will continue working closely with all three devolved administrations.”