Ministers promise ‘power surge’ to devolved nations after Brexit amid bitter row with Scotland and Wales
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said the devolved nations would ‘get powers in dozens more areas’ after Brexit. (PA)
The UK Government has unveiled plans to allow trading to continue “freely across all four corners of the UK” after Brexit, amid a bitter row with the administrations in Scotland and Wales.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove promised a post-EU “power surge to the devolved administrations” in Holyrood, Cardiff and Stormont, as the Government said they would be given more say in “at least 70 policy areas".
But the Welsh Government warned against any “attempt to unilaterally impose a system” on the country, while the SNP has said the plans could “strip power” from the Scottish Parliament.
The Government is promising that powers in a raft of policy areas previously overseen by the European Union will “flow directly” to the administrations in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast when Britain leaves the EU transition period at the end of the year.
They include oversight of energy efficiency for buildings, air quality, some aspects of employment law, and animal welfare.
But the Government is also looking to “strengthen and maintain the coherence of the UK’s internal market“ to allow goods to be traded freely between the four nations once Britain leaves the EU’s single market and customs union.
Ministers say the measures are needed to avoid “serious problems” in trade across the UK, and offer certainty for businesses.
Devolved nations will therefore be required to abide by the “principle of mutual recognition “, meaning that regulations from one part of the country will be recognised across the devolved nations.
The Government argues that this will “ensure the devolved administrations can set their own rules and standards, but still welcome the trade of businesses based anywhere in the UK “.
The four nations will also need to adopt the “principle of non-discrimination “, it says, to give businesses “a level playing field” across the UK.
Launching a policy paper on the plans, Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: “The UK’s internal market has functioned seamlessly for centuries. When we exit the Transition Period at the end of the year, we want to ensure the most successful political and economic union of nations in the world continues to grow and thrive.
“This plan protects jobs and livelihoods. Without these necessary reforms, the way we trade goods and services between the home nations could be seriously impacted, harming the way we do business within our own borders.”
And Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove promised: “This plan is a power surge to the devolved administrations – giving them powers in dozens more areas.”
He added: “As powers flow back from Brussels to the devolved administrations in Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff - as well as to the UK Government - we want to build on the good progress we have already made.
“We will develop new ways of working together and learning from each other to help create more opportunities for jobs and investment for businesses and citizens across the United Kingdom.”
The Government is kicking off a four-week consultation on the proposals, taking views from businesses, experts and consumer groups across the four nations.
However, a Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We support having rules across the UK to regulate the internal market, but these rules must be agreed between the four Governments in the UK, each of which has their own responsibility for economic development.
"Any new system must have independent oversight and dispute resolution.
“Unfortunately, the UK Government has not managed to share the Paper with us, and Welsh Ministers have had no recent discussions with the UK Government on these issues. Any attempt to unilaterally impose a system will be deeply damaging.”
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon warned earlier this week that the UK’s plans would undermine devolution.
The Scottish First Minister said: “Make no mistake, this would be a full scale assault on devolution - a blatant move to erode the powers of the Scottish Parliament in key areas.
“If the Tories want to further boost support for independence, this is the way to do it.”