Brexit: Peers bid to 'freeze' controversial Internal Market Bill for devolved governments

A major amendment to the UK government’s controversial Internal Market Bill will be lodged by peers in an attempt to put the legislation “on ice” until common trading frameworks have been agreed by devolved governments and UK ministers.

The move, by Scottish Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, would, they say, “safeguard the devolution settlement" and “break the “constitutional stand-off”, as peers begin their detailed consideration of the Bill.

The Internal Market Bill (IBM) has already been rejected by the governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which claim it “rides roughshod” over devolution. It has also been roundly criticised for breaking international law, although the UK government has insisted the Bill is both good for Scotland and legally sound.

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Peers are set to debate amendments to the Internal Market Bill

The SLD amendment, due to be debated today, would suspend the Bill’s implementation until agreement has been reached on the operation of internal market frameworks.

It would also require UK ministers to secure a memorandum of understanding on robust dispute resolution mechanisms, agreed exclusions from market access principals, and proposals for oversight councils with representatives from all four nations.

Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Scotland in the Lords, Lord Malcolm Bruce of Benachie, said: “We are presenting this consensus amendment to avert the entirely avoidable confusion this Bill will inflict on businesses in its present form.

“The implementation of these proposals need to be put on ice until the UK government and devolved administrations can come to agreement. The business community mustn’t suffer while these details are ironed out. Both of Scotland’s governments have a responsibility to ensure this relationship works smoothly in practice.”

Lord Purvis of Tweed said: “This prolonged constitutional stand-off will do nothing, but damage businesses across the UK, adding extra uncertainty to internal UK trade at a time of real business pressure given Covid 19 and Brexit.

“We need to explore sensible pathways to ensure the internal market works competently in practice with the devolution settlement the Liberal Democrats helped deliver.”

He pointed to Australia and Canada, which he said showed “a model of consensus we should learn from”. He added: “We can break the constitutional log jam with our approach to the Bill.”

While there are no SNP peers, Pete Wishart MP said the Bill was a "full-scale assault” on devolution and should be “scrapped in its current form” altogether.

He said the legislation would “enable Westminster to overrule the Scottish Parliament on the NHS, education, food and environmental standards, and other crucial devolved areas” and the SNP “will continue to oppose it”.

The SNP also accused Boris Johnson of threatening Scotland's economy with “reckless games” over the Brexit negotiations and warned it was “inevitable” the UK was heading towards a devastating “low deal or no-deal” outcome.

The Prime Minister has threatened to quit talks with the EU, though David Wells, chief executive of Logistics UK, has warned the average weekly shop in the UK would become “much more expensive” if there is no deal, with import costs rising by a third.

The Scottish Conservatives declined to comment on the Lords amendment, but Scottish Secretary Alister Jack yesterday acknowledged support for Scottish independence was rising because “a lot of people in Scotland upset we are leaving the EU”.

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