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Devolution and the rule of law is threatened by the UK Internal Market Bill warns campaigning groups and trade unions ahead of commons debate

In a letter to MPs and Peers, civil society organisations, including CAJ, warn of their “serious concerns” about the Internal Market Bill.

The letter, with signatories including the Pesticide Action Network UK and UNISON, warns that the proposed internal market rules pose a threat to the devolution settlements, the rule of law and the UK’s high standards in a number of areas, including housing, health and environmental regulations.

The market access principles in the Bill will in practice limit the devolved administrations’ efforts to legislate in areas like environmental protections and tackling obesity (1). Because the Bill lacks any meaningful grounds to justify devolved choices, it would, for example, enable producers in England to sell plastic cutlery in Wales irrespective of an upcoming local ban on single-use plastics. As a result, the Government’s proposals have a “strongly centralising effect” and “undermine devolution to an unprecedented extent”.

Further, the amendment put forward by the government serves only as a parliamentary rubber stamp, the government will still be breaking international law even if Parliament approves (2). Brian Gormally, director of the Committee on the Administration of Justice in Northern Ireland said that the Protocol “removed the threat” of a hard border on the isle of Ireland and the UK government making unilateral changes to it would “destroy the peace process”.

Brian Gormally, director of the Committee on the Administration of Justice said: 

“A hard border on the island of Ireland would destroy the peace process. The Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol and the Withdrawal Agreement removed that threat. It wasn’t perfect but it did include protection of human rights and equality, it was an international agreement and it was enshrined in domestic law. Now, with the Internal Market Bill, Ministers will be empowered to change it unilaterally at will. That breaks international law and it also breaks our trust in the good faith of the British Government.”

Josie Cohen, Head of Policy and Campaigns, Pesticide Action Network UK said: 

“This bill threatens to curtail attempts by the devolved administrations to better protect the health of their citizens and the environment from harmful pesticides. It also risks driving a race to the bottom in terms of pesticide standards, which is a far cry from Government promises that EU exit will allow us to create a more sustainable form of agriculture less-dependant on hazardous chemicals”

Charles Whitmore, Co-ordinator of the Wales Civil Society Forum on Brexit and Research Associate at Wales Governance Centre said: 

“The UK Internal Market Bill is an unprecedented challenge to devolution by Westminster. The narrative that the Bill is both necessary and represents a ‘power surge’ for the devolved nations is deeply disingenuous. The Bill removes devolution of state aid, gifting these powers back to London, and contains spending powers for the UK Government in devolved areas which are unnecessary for maintaining the UK’s already, highly integrated market. What’s more, the UK Government claims to use these powers to replace EU funding, a matter which in Wales is governed in partnership between the devolved administration and the third sector with a focus on equality and cohesion, not by Westminster which seems intent on prioritising the industrial strategy and now internal market infrastructure”.

Please direct media enquiries to Robyn Scott, Communications & Equality Coalition Coordinator, on robyn@caj.org.uk or 075 1994 1203.

Footnotes

(1) Professor Nicola McEwen, ‘The Internal Market Bill: Implications for Devolution’: https://www.centreonconstitutionalchange.ac.uk/news-and-opinion/internal-market-bill-implications-devolution

(2) For further information on the government’s amendment, see analysis by Professor of Public Law at Cambridge University, Mark Elliott here.

About the Brexit Civil Society Alliance:  The Brexit Civil Society Alliance is a UK wide alliance of charities, voluntary and campaigning organisations. The Alliance does not take a position on the 2016 EU referendum but seeks to raise concerns on behalf of its members and work to ensure that the Brexit process delivers on three principles: open and accountable lawmaking; a high standards UK; and no governance gap after Brexit. Read more about the Alliance here.

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