UK internal market: initial assessment of UK Government proposals

Initial Scottish Government assessment of the threat to devolution, regulatory standards, businesses and jobs.

UK Common Frameworks

The Scottish Government believes the UK internal market proposals are also completely unnecessary.  We have participated in good faith in the common frameworks process since 2017, and believe that this process, which is designed to manage policy differences on the basis of agreement and is founded on respect for devolution, is not only all that is needed to manage the practical regulatory and market implications of the UK leaving the EU, but is in fact the specific  tool that was jointly designed by the devolved governments and the UK Government for  that task. The new UK Government proposals wish to abandon that work despite the fact that it is near to completion.

Significant progress has been made in relation to developing frameworks. Although the current public health crisis has impacted on the ability of the UK Government and the devolved governments to progress work completely as planned, the four governments have agreed on a revised delivery plan (as outlined in Annex A).   It is now anticipated that seven frameworks, six of which relate to Scotland, will be fully developed, agreed and implemented by the end of December 2020, with provisional frameworks being established in the 25 remaining policy areas before being finalised for agreement as full frameworks after 2020. 

Provisional frameworks will consist of a framework outline agreement and accompanying concordat, including essential arrangements required for the framework to operate at the end of the transition period. The development and agreement of provisional frameworks will be on the same basis as full frameworks, requiring adherence to the principles for common frameworks set out by JMC (EN) and including technical scrutiny with stakeholders and engagement with legislatures.

The successful delivery and implementation of frameworks, require greater clarity on a number of strategic dependencies, including the UK’s future trade and regulatory relationship with the EU, and the implementation and operation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.  This is another example of the harm being caused by the UK Government’s decision not to seek an extension to the transition period to allow time for these issues to be resolved and their impact properly understood.  In addition, the UK Government has shifted away from its previous vision for an economic partnership with the EU that includes a common rulebook for goods, including agri-food goods, as outlined in its 2018 White Paper on the future relationship between the UK and the EU. The move away from the UK-wide agreement on the need to follow EU level playing field rules also has implications for the framework development process.

The UK Government proposals for legislation on a UK internal market potentially undermine the frameworks process, both in principle – as they divert from an approach based on agreement not imposition – and in practice – by removing the incentive for the governments to agree ways of aligning and managing difference when mutual recognition rules require acceptance of standards from other parts of the UK.  

The White Paper proposals also create the perfect conditions for greater, unmanaged and competitive regulatory divergence in a “race to the bottom” and therefore work against the purpose of frameworks. 

Although the Scottish Government remains committed to the delivery of full and provisional frameworks by the end of 2020, it is clear that any attempt by the UK Government to conflate Common Frameworks with its internal market proposals would negate the successful delivery of frameworks.  In contrast, an agreement to use the frameworks as intended could lead to an acceleration of their implementation if the governments of these islands so decided.

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