Sturgeon attacked for ‘false claims’ as Tory minster pens letter over Boris’s Brexit plan

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The UK Internal Market Bill (UKIMB), currently being examined by MPs, will enable ministers to breach provisions in the withdrawal agreement relating to Northern Ireland. Boris Johnson was this week forced to agree to table an amendment to the UKIMB giving MPs a vote before the Government can use powers which breach the Withdrawal Agreement.


This appeared to have headed off a looming Commons revolt by Tory rebels.

However, it is not clear whether the move will be enough to placate all the critics of the Bill who voiced deep concern the Government would even consider going back on its international treaty obligations.

Ms Sturgeon branded the Bill an “abomination” that will break devolution while Scottish Finance Secretary Kate Forbes said the Bill would allow the UK Government to spend money directly in areas where power is devolved to Holyrood, without requiring the consent of Scottish ministers.

In the latest events, Mr Jack wrote to the First Minister claiming she was making “false claims” about the Bill.

The Scottish Secretary said in the letter, seen by, said: “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.”

He concluded in his 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 the country.

Scotland Constitution Secretary Michael Russell, however, rejected the series of assertions made by the Secretary of State for Scotland.

In an angry response to Mr Jack’s comments, Mr Russell said it was Mr Jack that made false claims in his letter.

Speaking today, he said: “As it stands the Bill would also allow the UK Government to bypass devolution in allocating money in devolved areas in Scotland without the oversight or consent of the Scottish Parliament and ministers.

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“As we approach an economically disastrous no deal Brexit – or a low-deal Brexit that will be little better – in the teeth of a global pandemic and the worst recession in centuries, what binding assurance can we have that UK Ministers will not seek to bypass the scrutiny of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish ministers in deciding where and how funding is allocated in future?”

Mr Russell’s concerns were echoed by counterparts in Wales and Northern Ireland whose Finance Ministers met Scottish Finance Secretary Kate Forbes this week.

Welsh finance minister Rebecca Evans said she was “deeply concerned that the Bill gives UK ministers, for the first time since devolution, powers to fund activity in areas which are clearly devolved to Wales”.

Conor Murphy MLA, Sinn Féin finance minister in Northern Ireland, added: “The Internal Market Bill will give the British Government wide-ranging powers to make funding decisions in devolved areas.

Despite being told it was “extremely likely” Holyrood would not grant legislative consent for the Internal Market Bill, Mr Jack also indicated the UK Government would press ahead.

He was challenged on the issue when he appeared before MPs on the Scottish Affairs Committee, with panel chairman Pete Wishart asking if the UK Government would “accept that rejection from the Scottish Parliament” or if it would “as it usually does, just ignore the Scottish Parliament and legislate anyway”.

The Sewel Convention, which has been in place since the Scottish Parliament was established, sets out that Westminster will “not normally” legislate in devolved areas without the express consent of those administrations.

Mr Jack said: “We are legislating because under the Sewel Convention there is this convention of not normal.

“This legislation is required because we are leaving the European Union – that was not, when the Scottish Parliament was established, something that was envisaged.

“So we now need to pass bills to secure the United Kingdom economy and secure the internal market… that is the right thing to do.”

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