Michael Gove agrees to give evidence to MSPs after Alok Sharma refusal

Michael Gove has said he will answer MSPs questions about the controversial Internal Markets Bill after his cabinet colleague, Alok Sharma, said he had no time to give evidence on the legislation.

Alok Sharma has declined to appear in front of MSPs.
Alok Sharma has declined to appear in front of MSPs.

Mr Sharma, the UK government's Business Secretary, had claimed the “tight legislative timetable” around the post-Brexit law made it impossible for him to be quizzed by MSPs on the Finance and Constitution Committee - despite fears that the Bill undermines the devolution settlement.

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Now Mr Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, has said he will appear in Mr Sharma’s place. His office contacted the Scottish Parliament to say he would give evidence on behalf of the UK government, in the light of his colleague's refusal.

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Committee convener Bruce Crawford had said he was "dismayed" by Mr Sharma's decision to decline the invitation to attend Holyrood, given the Bill’s “profound impact on the devolution settlement”, but welcomed the offer from Mr Gove.

The committee is scrutinising the Bill as the UK government needs both the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly to give legislative consent as it impacts on devolved matters.

However the Bill has proved controversial, with the UK government admitting it breaks international law. It also claims the legislation is necessary to deal with the powers returning from the EU, aiming to enshrine “mutual recognition and non-discrimination” in terms of trade between the four nations of the United Kingdom.

The Scottish and Welsh governments have said the Bill would see powers already devolved, such as food standards, over-ridden by the UK government.

Earlier Mr Crawford said: “Under my convenership, this committee has always set out to engage constructively with the UK Government. Indeed, we will hear from Mr Hands [Greg Hands, minister for trade] on the Trade Bill next week.

“It is implausible why a UK Minister is available for the relatively limited impact on devolution of that Bill, while not being available for the Internal Market Bill which has a potentially huge impact on the people of Scotland.”

In a three-sentence email, Mr Sharma’s private secretary said: “Thank you for your invitation for the SoS to give evidence to the committee. Given the tight legislative timeline for the Bill, it is with regret that the SoS will be unable to attend this committee session. We look forward to the findings of the Committee’s engagement on the UK internal market Bill.”

Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie said Mr Sharma's refusal was an insult to Holyrood. “The UK Government is showing contempt for international law, for the Northern Ireland peace process, for the Scottish and Welsh parliaments, and is even trashing the UK’s own reputation for keeping its word,” he said. “Now they are also refusing even the most cursory democratic scrutiny in Parliament at the same time as seizing the power to over-rule Scots law and the decisions of the Scottish courts.

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“It’s hard to see how they could make this calculated assault against Scotland’s democracy any more insulting than they already have.”

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