Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee
Letter from the Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture to the Convener, 2 December 2021
I am writing to update you on developments in the Common Frameworks programme following a recent ministerial quadrilateral.
This meeting was called to review progress made to address cross cutting issues that, if not resolved, would have a negative impact on the operation of frameworks.
The most critical of these is the interaction between common frameworks and the UK Internal Market Act. The Scottish Government remains firmly of the view that the Act is an unnecessary and deliberate undermining of the devolution settlements, imposed by UK Ministers despite the explicit withholding of legislative consent by the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Senedd and its rejection by the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The meeting agreed an approach to securing exemptions to the Act for policy divergence agreed through common frameworks, and endorsed the text of a statement that UK Ministers will shortly make to the House of Commons. This will give effect to firm commitments made to the UK Parliament during the passage of the Bill that “…divergence may occur where there is agreement under a common framework, and that such divergence could be excluded from the market access principles. Regulations to give effect to such an agreement can be made under Clauses 10 and 17. In those cases, the Secretary of State would be able to bring to the House a statutory instrument to exclude from the market access principles a specific agreed area of divergence. This would follow consensus being reached between the UK Government and all the relevant parties that this is appropriate in respect of any specific defined topic within a common framework.(https://hansard.parliament.uk/lords/2020-12-15/debates/30D48FC1-D74D-4627-8045-405C01172EAA/UnitedKingdomInternalMarketBill)
It is essential that the UK Government recognises the damage caused by the Act, and that while the proposed process for excluding policy issues covered by a common framework should be adopted it does nothing to lessen the Scottish Government’s opposition to the Act.
It is in this context that UK Ministers must now act to ensure that frameworks are able to serve the purpose envisaged by the Joint Ministerial Committee (EN) in 2017. On that basis, It remains the case, regrettably, that despite the development of a process to exclude some decisions rightly made by devolved governments within areas of their competence from Act’s market access principles, final decision making lies with UK Ministers alone. That is fundamentally inconsistent with the principles and practice of devolution.
The meeting also noted proposed text from officials covering international trade issues impacting on common frameworks and agreed that once approved by portfolio Ministers across the four governments, the text should be included in frameworks being finalised for publication.
The meeting also approved text in relation to the NI Protocol.
With these matters resolved, frameworks can now move forward to publication and formal scrutiny in the four legislatures. I hope to be able to update you further on this shortly.