Plaid and SNP accuse UK Government of ‘clear power grab’ and ‘con trick’ over internal market bill

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove. Picture by the Policy Exchange (CC BY 2.0).

Plaid Cymru and the SNP have described UK Government plans to create a new “internal market” across the UK once the Brexit transition period ends as a “power grab” from Westminster.

The Bill, which was announced in the House of Commons today, would see Westminster take control of a number of policy areas where changes could come into place as a result of Brexit.

Under current legislation areas such as state aid are devolved to Wales, but following the Brexit transition period the Westminster Government has indicated that they would want to take control of this policy area, among others.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has insisted a “a power surge is occurring” which will see “scores of new powers” transferred to the Scottish Parliament.

However, Plaid Cymru and the SNP say proposals would effectively see matters such as food standards in Wales and the other devolved administrations decided by Westminster as a result of future trade agreements.

This would mean that Wales would, for example, have no ability to stop the sale of US chlorinated chicken if agreed to by the Government in Westminster.

During a statement on the legislation in the House of Commons, Plaid Cymru’s Hywel Williams MP asked why the UK Government was only offering a four-week consultation on their plans.

“We have long warned that the Conservative Westminster Government was ready to grab powers back and this Bill marks another step down that path. Two referendums and two decades of devolution are being undermined,” he said.

“No one wants to scupper trade in the UK, so you can only conclude the Westminster Government is either paranoid or simply does not want to give Wales the power that it needs to let it stand on its own two feet.

“Four weeks consultation, no process to agree how this will work, and the ability for Westminster to simply overrule Wales makes it clear that the Conservative’s don’t want to work together with our nation, just rule over it. ”

‘Con trick’

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon made clear her party’s opposition to the plans is “about not wanting to see the UK Government ride roughshod over the powers of the Scottish Parliament”.

Ms Sturgeon claimed the changes “effectively would allow the UK Government to decide issues of food standards or consumer standards, environmental standards that right now are decisions for the Scottish Parliament”.

She added: “Retrospectively that could have meant the Scottish Parliament not being able to legislate for minimum pricing for alcohol, and not being able to stop GM crops.

“These are important issues of principle and it is about the ability of the democratically-elected Parliament of Scotland to take decisions in the powers we have, based on what we consider to be right for Scotland.”

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said: “This Tory con trick is a botched attempt to disguise a blatant power grab on the Scottish Parliament, which could see Westminster block Scotland from taking action in devolved areas.

“People in Scotland will not be fooled. Despite the smoke and mirrors, none of the so-called new powers outlined by the Tory Government are new – all are already devolved.

“Crucially, the mechanism proposed would enable Westminster to override Scotland’s democratic decisions and impose its own policies, such as lower standards for food safety, animal and plant health, and environmental protections.

“This is the biggest threat to devolution since the Scottish Parliament was reconvened in 1999.

“The SNP will resist any attempt to roll-back Scotland’s devolution settlement or block the Scottish Parliament from acting without Westminster’s permission.”

He claimed that if the proposals had already been in place, the Scottish Parliament could have been prevented from introducing key reforms including the smoking ban, minimum pricing for alcohol and free university tuition.

He warned: “We know the Tory Government is prepared to trample over Scotland’s devolution settlement to satisfy (US President) Donald Trump’s trade deal demands.

“This move would increase the risk of chlorine chicken, hormone-injected beef and ractopamine pork imports, and GM foods being imposed on Scotland against our will, and threatening our thriving food and drink industry.”

‘Myth-making’

But UK Business Secretary Alok Sharma insisted without the “necessary reforms, the way we trade goods and services between the home nations could be seriously impacted, harming the way we do business within our own borders”.

Government officials said no action could see a Welsh lamb producer unable to sell their meat in Scotland, or Scotch whisky makers losing access to supply from English barley farmers.

Mr Gove said: “No promise is being reneged on, a power surge is occurring. Scores of new powers are going to the Scottish Parliament.

“No single SNP MP, MSP, councillor or activist can point to a single power currently exercised by the Scottish Parliament which is being taken away.

“There is no power grab, there’s simply an example of SNP myth-making which this Internal Market Bill finally puts to bed.

“What is actually happening here is taking away very significant powers that will have an effect on our daily lives, on food standards, on employment standards, on building standards.”

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