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Will Michael Gove Use A Brexit Deal To Back Off Confrontation On Devolution?


PM calls it a “power surge”, Sturgeon calls it a “power grab”. But the Internal Market Bill may be left to wither and die.


Hopes of a big breakthrough on a UK-EU trade deal took quite a knock tonight as Michel Barnier tweeted that “significant divergences” remain between the two sides. Still, frantic talks may continue this weekend, as both London and Brussels try one last (no, really last) big push to get an agreement. Time is indeed running out.

Among the many reasons for the urgency is that the UK’s controversial Internal Market Bill returns to the Commons on Monday. In a move that suggested No.10 thought a deal would be done by then, MPs will in theory be voting to reinsert the most controversial bits of this legislation that were stripped out by the Lords.


The most headline-grabbing element was of course the provision to break the law, by reneging on the Northern Ireland protocol bit of the withdrawal agreement signed between Boris Johnson and the EU earlier this year. The idea of tearing up international treaties is what prompted a huge Lords defeat. It’s also what triggered warning shots from a certain Joseph Robinette Biden Jnr.


If a Brexit deal is done in coming days, the whole idea of the UK needing its “safety net” (copyright No.10) would be rendered not just academic but redundant.


But there’s another less-noticed element of the bill, in England at least, that provides yet another incentive for ministers to quietly bin their own legislation: its threat to devolution. The Internal Market Bill gets its very name from the government’s desire to codify trade rules between the four nations after the Brexit transition returns key powers to the UK.


Michael Gove originally described the bill as providing a “power surge” to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland because it handed back to them scores of powers held by Brussels. But the devolved administrations, particularly Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford, said it was in fact a “power grab” because it threatened their right to set local regulations in lots of areas such as food and agriculture standards.‌

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Also Read: Brexit: Trade talks put on hold as UK and EU say ‘conditions not met’ for deal