The UK Government’s internal market plans have been blasted as an “elaborate” and “most desperate power grab” by constitution secretary Michael Russell.
Giving evidence at a Holyrood committee on environment and new Scottish Government EU continuity bill which aims to replace the one struck down by the Supreme Court in 2018, Mr Russell said the bill forms a “significant threat” to the Scottish Parliament and it’s ability to legislate.
The internal market plans were brought forward by the UK Government to ensure the same rules and regulations apply on the sale of goods and services across the country after the EU internal market ceases to apply at the end of the year when the transition period with the EU ends.
However, the Scottish Government insists the white paper on the plans undermines the authority of the Scottish Parliament.
Mr Russell said the plans had “assassinated” the work around the common frameworks which have been ongoing for several years since the Brexit referendum which were intended to set out a common Great Britain approach on areas of policy, including common goals and minimum or maximum standards.
Such is the ferocity of the disagreement, Mr Russell has said the Scottish Government could launch a court battle to fight the plans.
Speaking at the Environment Committee during a virtual meeting, Mr Russell said the internal market white paper “deliberately misunderstands” European concepts and said it forms a “significant threat.
He said: "It’s a very serious threat. We have been working in good faith with the UK government on the issue of frameworks and indeed out of the whole sorry Brexit process this is the one thing which we’ve been able to, working as equals with other parts of these islands, come to some conclusions on.
"I have made a commitment that we will not do anything outwith of that process that would damage relationships and then suddenly virtually out of nowhere comes this internal market white paper which takes two European concepts, misunderstands, perhaps deliberately misunderstands them and creates a set of circumstances in which Scottish regulation in virtually every area would be undermined.
"Because it wouldn’t matter what regulations we passed or decided to pass, they could be undercut by decisions by the UK parliament, probably operating Scottish input, probably operating under English votes for English laws.
"It is difficult to underestimate the damage the internal market paper would do to the frameworks process and we could not accept the internal market proposals and we have made that absolutely clear.
"The internal market paper forms a significant threat to all of the things the Scottish Parliament is talking about and it undermines and indeed destroys the ability of the Scottish Parliament to make choices for the people of Scotland in the devolved areas of competence, it is as serious as that."
The constitution secretary added that the internal market paper was so wide-ranging that it could impact on Scottish decision making around public sector contracts such as NHS procurement, water privatisation, and building standards, a policy area he said have been different to England for “time immemorial”.
Mr Russell added that he believed the UK government’s reveal of their internal market plans had “assassinated” the common frameworks which have been under development for several years.
Labelling the move as the “most elaborate and most desperate power grab”, he added that relationships between the devolved administrations in the UK and with Westminster have gone “from bad to worse”.
He said: "It is partly the most elaborate and most desperate power grab and partly it is there because anything must be subordinated for the bad trade deals that the UK needs to do.
"In terms of the relationships between the various parts of these islands, I think one could only say they have gone from bad to worse.
"The internal market papers are a totally unnecessary intervention. The frameworks were always designed and rose out of the first withdrawal bill and were agreed as a means by which we would be able to manage the shared competences.”
Roseanna Cunningham, the environment secretary, added: “I liken this to the notion that people say what is the problem, well you know if you have got a happy marriage there’s no problem, but that doesn’t mean to say that you want to remove the right to divorce from everybody on that basis because there are some real issues that arise and are likely to arise in many many areas and this will be a huge problem for us in the future.”