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Boris Johnson’s plans to tear up aspects of Brexit divorce deal with the EU with the Internal Market Bill which the Prime Minister hopes will unify and return powers back to the UK after the transitional period ends on December 31. But after a long debate in the House of Commons last night, opposition motions were defeated and the Bill cleared its first Commons hurdle after MPs approved giving it a second reading by 340 votes to 263, majority 77. The Bill will now progress to the Committee stage before eventually going before the House of Lords.
The new legislation will force Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland whose members have opposed the Bill to accept new standards on food, environment and animal welfare agreed by the UK Government.
However, Stephen Barclay, Chief Secretary to the Treasury warned Scotland could pass laws before the Internal Market Bill is given the go-ahead in Parliament.
Express.co.uk understands the move is being considered by the SNP-led Scottish government.
A Scottish government spokesperson earlier revealed “every option” will be explored to stop “a law that presents a clear and present danger to the devolution settlement”.
And now insiders have confirmed to this website it’s “being considered” as the Internal Market Bill progresses through to the next stage in Parliament.
The Bill, which will undergo line-by-line scrutiny from MPs on Tuesday, is also expected to eliminate the legal force of parts of the Brexit withdrawal agreement in areas including Northern Ireland customs and state aid as well as give Westminster final veto powers on certain devolved laws if they are a threat to UK trade – which has sparked fury from the SNP.
Mr Johnson insisted the legislation, which would put the UK in breach of international law by breaking the terms of the treaty signed with Brussels, was a necessary “legal safety net” to protect the relationship between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
It also gives ministers the power to fund infrastructure and development anywhere in the UK, which the SNP say is an attack on devolution because areas such as transport and regional development are reserved powers held by Holyrood.
The Prime Minister, taking the unusual step of opening the debate on the legislation in the Commons, accused the EU of going to “extreme and unreasonable lengths” over the Northern Ireland Protocol which he said could lead to “blockading food and agriculture transports within our own country”.
Amendments lodged by Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, SDLP, Greens and Alliance Party were defeated.
The SNP motion claimed that the Bill “breaks international law and is contrary to the established devolution settlement”, which aimed to derail the second reading.
For Scotland, concerns were also raised that chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-injected beef could flood Scottish supermarket shelves after trade deals are struck with other countries.
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Earlier Chief Secretary to the Treasury Mr Barclay stressed any law passed in Scotland to counter the Internal Market Bill would only have to comply with current EU legislation to be enforceable.
Mr Barclay said: “We’re still in the transition period and so any legislation rushed through would need to comply with EU legislation, so the devil would be in the detail.
“It’s important that across the UK we maintain high food standards and address the scare stories put out to worry the public.”
But he stressed: “That is what this legislation delivers, we will maintain high standards across the UK and enable Scottish businesses, which do three times more trade with the rest of the UK than they do with the EU, to maintain that business, which is key to protecting jobs in Scotland.”
Douglas Ross MP, Scottish Conservative leader, whose members voted with Boris Johnson told Express.co.uk: “The UK Internal Market Bill is essential to protect the 545,000 jobs in Scotland that rely on UK trade and ensure the unrestricted movement of goods across this country.
“Allowing the Bill to progress to committee stage where over the next two weeks, MPs will be able to debate and vote on a range of amendments.
“Putting half a million jobs at risk in the middle of a pandemic is not an option, so I am voting for the bill at this stage to make sure that safety net for Scottish jobs is there.”
Kirsten Oswald MP, SNP Westminster deputy leader however branded Douglas Ross spineless for not backing the SNP’s motion.
She said last night: “Boris Johnson’s naked power grab on the Scottish Parliament is dangerous and undemocratic. It is outrageous that Westminster is forcing this Bill through despite overwhelming opposition from Scotland’s MPs and national Parliament.
“The SNP will fiercely resist this brazen attack on devolution and Tory plans to impose an extreme Brexit against our will.”
“These growing threats demonstrate the need for Scotland to become an independent country – so we can protect our parliament, our democratic interests, and our place in Europe.
“Yet again, Douglas Ross and the six spineless Scottish Tory MPs have voted to sell Scotland out by backing this power grab bill, which hands Westminster the power to overrule the Scottish Parliament in devolved areas and puts Scotland’s NHS at risk of creeping Tory privatisation.
“This Bill is a danger to Scotland’s NHS and public services, a danger to Scottish food and environmental standards, a danger to Scottish democracy – and it leaves Scotland open to a dangerous race to the bottom under an extreme Tory Brexit.
“By breaking the devolution settlement and international law, the Tories have shown they cannot be trusted. It is clearer than ever that the only way to properly protect Scotland’s interests is to take our place as an independent country.”
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford warned Tory MPs not to follow the Prime Minister by breaking the law.
He told the Commons: “This is a test for the House this evening, do not wait for the committee stage. Legally, morally, ethically, the right thing to do is to vote down this Bill tonight and this House must be accountable.
“Do not follow the Prime Minister in acquiescing in breaking the law because if you vote for second reading tonight, that’s exactly what you’re all doing.
“So this is a test and I understand the challenge that Conservative members face – don’t support the Prime Minister by breaking the law this evening, it is as simple as that.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said of the Bill: “We are determined that Scotland should maintain existing high standards, comparable to the EU, in areas like food standards and environmental protection.
“However, the UK Government’s Internal Market Bill would undermine this – it would force Scotland to accept lower standards set elsewhere, regardless of the views of the Scottish Parliament, or the people it represents.
“The proposed UK regime could mean that we were forced to accept market access requirements set elsewhere in the UK, rendering – even retrospectively – the choices of the Scottish Parliament on matters like minimum unit pricing meaningless.
“The scope of the Bill can be changed at any time at the whim of UK ministers, not the Scottish Parliament.”
Asked if that meant bringing in legislation, the spokesman added: “We will explore every option to stop the UK Government enacting a law that presents a clear and present danger to the devolution settlement.”
Constitution Secretary Michael Russell MSP added: “The Scottish Parliament has voted overwhelmingly to reject these proposals and it is high time the wishes of the people of Scotland and their national Parliament were respected.”
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