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The warning comes as Westminster and Holyrood are on track for the biggest constitutional showdown since the EU referendum as Nicola Sturgeon’s government threaten to block a major post-Brexit law over accusations of a “power grab”. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her Scottish National Party (SNP) have warned they are prepared to stand in the way of an internal bill, which would give the UK Government the power to set food and environmental standards following the nation’s exit from the bloc.
While Michael Russell, SNP cabinet secretary for constitutional affairs, said Holyrood will plough ahead with proposals for its own law to rival that of the UK’s.
But Jess Sargeant, senior researcher at think tank The Institute for Government, warned the UK Government could put a rule in place that would block devolved nations passing laws in direct challenge to the proposed UK internal market bill.
She said Mr Johnson’s Government could have the power to “prevent the devolved legislators passing Acts which are in direct contravention” to major post-Brexit laws passed by Westminster.
She told The National: “It is not clear entirely how this would work, this is a hypothetical situation – but for example, say the Scottish Government wanted to pass a bill that banned the sale of chlorinated chicken, despite the fact it was acceptable in England.
“It would then be likely there would be some kind of mechanism through which that law could be struck down essentially.
“It is likely Acts of the Scottish Parliament could be challenged on that basis.
“The White Paper is not clear how it is going to do it, but if you are going to pass a law in the UK Parliament that says every part of the UK must recognise standards in every other part of the UK, there is going to have to be some kind of way it prevents the devolved legislators passing Acts which are in direct contravention of that principle.”
Mr Johnson’s Government is expected to bring forward legislation to the House of Commons in the autumn that may entail state aid policies – such as subsidising companies – being reserved to Westminster.
Currently devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales oversea policy areas including environment, food safety and agriculture.
But Prime Minister Mr Johnson hopes to bring those issues under the UK Government’s control with a proposed UK internal market bill after the final say was set by the EU.
This week Ms Sturgeon warned plans for Westminster to withhold state aid powers after the nation’s exit would be a “blatant move to erode the powers of the Scottish Parliament” in a furious tweet.
She tweeted: “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.
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“If the Tories want to further boost support for independence, this is the way to do it.”
Mr Russell accused Westminster of attempting one of the “most shocking pieces of dishonesty I have seen from a government”.
Mr Russell said: “The Scottish Government now intends to publish a full rebuttal of these proposals and then debate that document in the Scottish Parliament – and we will recommend that the Parliament refuses to give the legislative consent which it will need.
“We will also now review our work on joint frameworks given the negative impact these proposals will have on them, and furthermore we will seek alignment with EU standards including via the Continuity Bill which we intend to have on the statute book by the end of the year.
“We will actively oppose the UK Government’s proposals at every opportunity, including at every legislative stage, and pursue every avenue to challenge the Bill should it pass – no one should be in any doubt about our determination to defend the powers of the Scottish Parliament and the founding principles of devolution.”
Meanwhile, the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford said the plans were the “biggest threat to devolution” since Holyrood was established.
The Westminster Government has drawn up plans for a new “internal market” it says is necessary to ensure seamless trade between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has insisted a “a power surge is occurring” which will see “scores of new powers” transferred to the Scottish Parliament.
UK ministers have said the return of powers to the UK from Brussels after December 31, when the transition period ends, will see the Northern Ireland administration receive responsibility in 157 of the 160 areas, Scotland in 111 and Wales in 70.
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