Not Passed so Fast: Scotland and Wales challenge Internal Market Bill

December 25, 2020

3 min read

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What's going on here?

The Scottish and Welsh governments have threatened legal action against the UK government over the Internal Market Bill which was passed on Thursday 17 December. They perceive the Bill as a threat to their devolved power. 

What does this mean?

The Internal Market Bill aims to create a post-Brexit trading market across the UK. It has been a hotly debated piece of legislation but the Bill has received Royal Assent. After months of debate surrounding clauses that threatened peace in Northern Ireland and broke the Withdrawal Agreement (to see our article on that click here), Parliament finally got the bill passed by both the House of Lord and the House of Commons. However, this is not the end of discussions about the new law. Politicians from Scotland and Wales have vowed to challenge the decision through Judicial Review (court proceedings where judges review decisions made by public bodies and decide whether they are lawful or not).  

The controversy in the Bill lies in its potential to take power away from the devolved nations. Welsh Ministers have already formally contacted the UK government. Jeremy Miles, the Welsh Minister for European Transition, called the Bill “an outrageous attack on [the Welsh parliament’s legislative competence. The Scottish government’s constitution secretary has furthered this saying Scotland will “work with Wales to consider [the] next legal and constitutional steps”.

What's the big picture effect?

There has previously been quite a reaction over the implications of the Internal Market Bill for Northern Ireland. However, the impact it may have on other devolved nations cannot be ignored. The Welsh and Scottish governments argue that the power to regulate quality standards for goods should be left in their power as opposed to Westminster’s. Much regulatory power regarding the standard of goods and energy efficiency is being handed back to the UK after we leave the EU. The central government does plan to leave these powers to the devolved nations. In fact, the British government has said the devolved nations will gain additional regulatory power in “at least 70 areas” post Brexit.

 However, the Internal Market Bill creates a trading market across the UK with rules set by the Westminster government. This means that Wales and Scotland may be forced to trade goods on the internal market which fall below the standards they set in devolved legislation. For example, Nicola Sturgeon has raised concerns that if the Westminster government enters into a trade deal with the US to buy chlorinated chicken then Scotland and Wales would be forced to accept such goods even if their own legislation banned them. This has angered Scottish and Welsh Ministers as the notion that the central government will not interfere with devolved matters without permission is a fundamental element of the UK’s constitution.

 The passing of the Internal Market Bill has not helped subdue cries for Scottish independence. In a time of such political and social instability, Westminster is likely to be concerned about the unity of the United Kingdom. This might encourage the UK government to seriously consider these legal challenges to prevent further friction between the nations. The Scottish government has made a previous legal challenge to exercise their devolved power over the Withdrawal Agreement; this unsuccessful attempt was struck down by the Supreme Court. At the moment it is unclear if Scotland and Wales will be able to successfully challenge the legality of the Internal Market Bill. The political fallout from Brexit looks to rumble on into the new year.

Report written by Amber Allen

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