Lib Dems urge Lords to help them change Brexit Bill and protect union

The Lib Dems have urged Labour Lords to help them change the Internal Market Bill to protect the union.

Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader Willie Rennie urged Labour to help amend the Internal Market Bill
Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader Willie Rennie urged Labour to help amend the Internal Market Bill

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has written to his Labour counterpart Richard Leonard calling for him to ask Labour peers to back an amendment that would stop the Bill until certain parameters were met.

Being debated in the Lords, the amendment would require the UK Government to secure agreement in a memorandum of understanding before it was passed.

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.

EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier and his team walks back to his hotel in Westminster after leaving meetings on Victoria Street, London. Picture: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

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Mr Rennie said: “Liberal Democrat peers have been pushing to protect the devolution settlement and seek a sensible path to resolve future disputes.

“I am urging Richard Leonard to ask Labour peers to do the same.

"It is in our common interest to ensure this constitutional stand-off doesn’t add further distress and confusion to business operations in Scotland.

“We want an internal market that is agreed across the whole UK, not imposed by one single administration. It should reflect the different voices in the nations.

"Business, workers and consumers should not suffer because the Scottish and UK governments cannot reach consensus. I implore Scottish Labour to support these key amendments.”

The move, by the Scottish Liberal Democrats, would, they say, “safeguard the devolution settlement" and “break the “constitutional stand-off”.

Lord Purvis of Tweed said: “Our amendment at committee stage received cross party encouragement and from the contacts across the Chamber since Monday I am hopeful we can build a strong joint position to ask the government to think again, pause, and step back from a damaging constitutional rift.

“The more this Bill is receiving line by line scrutiny with our challenging questions, the more it is showing itself to be poorly drafted, inconsistent and in places contradictory.

“This is in addition to its threat to the proper function of devolution, so I hope colleagues across the Lords will work together to pause it until we secure consensus across the UK”

The Bill has already been rejected by the governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, who 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.

Scottish Labour have previously criticised the Bill, warning it “threatens the very foundations of the UK”.

Alex Rowley, Scottish Labour spokesperson for Brexit and the constitution, said: “With the publication of its UK Internal Market Bill, the UK government seems determined to bypass the devolution settlement.

“The interests of Scotland and the other devolved administrations must be listened to, and failure to do so is the biggest threat to the future of the United Kingdom. The Tories must stop playing fast and loose with devolution or pay the price.”

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

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”.

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