Rt Hon Nicola Sturgeon MSP,
First Minister of Scotland,
St Andrews House,
11 September 2020
I am writing to correct the false claims you have made about the UK Government’s Internal Market Bill, introduced to Parliament on Wednesday, 9 September.
As we’ve been clear, the Bill will protect and strengthen our internal market which is so vital to Scotland’s economy with 60 per cent of our exports, worth over £50 billion per year, going to other parts of the United Kingdom.
It will also create new opportunities for the UK Government, working with the Scottish Government, local authorities and other partners, to invest in Scotland.
That’s why I have described the Bill as a win-win for Scotland.
It is good for business, jobs and consumers. It will boost our economy and help us rebuild from the devastating effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Bill has now begun its passage through Parliament and will be debated at length in the weeks ahead.
In accordance with the Sewel Convention, the UK Government will seek a Legislative Consent Motion so the Scottish Parliament, also, will have the opportunity to consider our proposals.
Before this takes place, I wish to correct a series of assertions you have made about the Bill.
1. You have said the Bill will lead to a ‘race to the bottom’ in terms of food standards and environmental protections. That is emphatically not the case.
The UK is a world leader in food and environmental standards and that will not change.
Also, as you know, the UK Government and all devolved administrations have agreed a common framework on food and feed safety and hygiene law which clearly sets out the ‘rules and regulations related to the production and distribution of food and feed’. Guaranteeing our shared commitment to high standards across the UK.
The UK Government is proud of our record and keenly aware of the premium our high standards place on UK goods in overseas markets.
2. Similarly, your speculation that Scotland could be ‘forced to accept chlorinated chicken’ is unfounded.
As we have previously reminded Scottish Government ministers during discussions about the Bill, chlorine washed chicken is illegal in the UK. The UK Government has been clear we will not sign a trade deal that would compromise our high standards of food safety, animal welfare and environmental protection.
Of course, we recognise and welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to high standards in these areas. Our shared view should be the basis of an agreed UK approach to high standards.
3. You also claimed the new spending power contained in the Bill could divert funding from schools and hospitals in Scotland. This is not the case.
Education and health are – and will continue to be – devolved to the Scottish Parliament and decisions on funding in those areas are for your Government to take. Scotland’s block grant is at a record level and the Barnett Formula will continue to operate as set out in the Statement on Funding Policy.
The UK Government’s spending power set out in the Bill will complement existing Scottish Government spending powers. This can only be a benefit to the people and businesses of Scotland.
They will enable us to spend money previously controlled by the EU to make strategic investments of UK-wide importance.
This is good news for the communities we serve and I am confident these new opportunities will be warmly welcomed by the people of Scotland.
4. You claim the Bill, had it been in place at the time, would have prohibited the Scottish Parliament from legislating to introduce a minimum price for alcohol. Again – as we have already made clear to Scottish Government ministers – this is incorrect.
Under the terms of the Bill, the Scottish Parliament would be able to introduce a minimum alcohol price provided, of course, it was not applied only to alcoholic drinks produced in certain parts of the UK.
5. You claim the Bill is ‘a naked power grab’ and ‘an attack on the powers of devolution’. It is not.
The Scottish Parliament will lose none of its existing powers. Indeed, as powers return from Brussels when we leave the Transition Period at the end of the year, scores of new responsibilities will flow to Holyrood.
It should be noted that your Government’s ambition to take Scotland out of the UK and into the EU would remove these powers from the Scottish Parliament. That is the only threat to Holyrood’s powers.
6. Finally, you claim the Bill would ‘break’ or ‘cripple’ devolution.
I’m afraid your Government is never less convincing than when it purports to champion a system it unashamedly wishes to overthrow.
Independence would destroy devolution, ending our system of two governments which was backed overwhelmingly by the people of Scotland in the referendums of 1997 and 2014.
The UK Government emphatically supports devolution and our Bill will strengthen the Scottish Parliament and create new opportunities for Scotland.
Your colourful description of the Internal Market Bill as ‘an abomination’ is deeply regrettable.
In my view, it would be abominable for the people of Scotland to be misinformed about a Bill which has such potential to improve lives and strengthen our country.
THE RT HON. ALISTER JACK MP
SECRETARY OF STATE FOR SCOTLAND
— to www.gov.uk