Government retreat on UK internal market bill ends Lords stand-off | Brexit

A stand-off between peers and the government over the future operation of the UK internal market post-Brexit has ended after ministers brought forward concessions.

Following an extended tussle with the House of Lords, the executive has agreed changes to legislation, which will ensure future flexibility for the devolved administrations.

The ending of parliamentary ping-pong with the Commons paves the way for the UK internal market bill to become law.

The legislation is required for when the UK finally departs from the EU’s single market and customs union at the end of the transition period.

However, in its original form there were concerns over what was seen as the centralisation of power in Westminster at the expense of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

But following a number of defeats by the Lords and extensive debate and negotiations, the government has had a rethink and made changes that will allow the devolved administrations agreed divergence from internal market rules through so-called common frameworks.

Announcing the concessions, business minister Lord Callanan said: “We are confident that these amendments provide an appropriate way to ensure that the market access principles in this bill can act to ensure certainty and a seamlessly functioning internal market.

“They do this whilst allowing for a degree of agreed divergence reflecting different circumstances in particular parts of our United Kingdom.”

Labour peer Lord Stevenson of Balmacara said as originally drafted the bill was unbalanced between market access principles “and the managed but limited divergence of standards”.

Opposition frontbencher Lady Hayter of Kentish Town said: “We are delighted the government has responded to repeated and really quite strongly supported urgings from this house to hardwire the common frameworks process into the bill.

“What the government is about to write into the bill is that for cases where a particular divergence in a market area is agreed under the common framework, that such an agreement can be exempted from the market access principles.

“This recognises in law that uniformity is not always necessary in an internal market, allowing some divergence, some differences, to suit the particular circumstances of parts of our union.”

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Fox said: “The sensitivity to the devolution settlement, which wasn’t there to start with, has been gradually piece by piece installed into this bill.”

It comes after peers stripped out controversial law-breaking powers from the bill at the request of the government.

Boris Johnson dropped the contentious plans after the UK and EU reached an agreement on the implementation of the Brexit divorce deal.

Ministers had come under fierce criticism, including from their own side, over the move to enable ministers to override parts of the withdrawal agreement – brokered with Brussels last year.

Although separate from the post-Brexit trade deal talks, which remain deadlocked, the deletion of the provisions from the bill removed another potential obstacle between the two sides.


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