On 9 September 2020, the UK Government published its Internal Market Bill.
What is it?
The Bill sets out the framework and rules for trade across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland after the Brexit transition period. The UK Government noted that the bill is designed to guarantee ‘companies can trade unhindered in every part of the UK’, and that ‘uncertainty for business’ will be removed by ‘creating an open, fair and competitive market across the United Kingdom’. A UK Government press release on the Bill can be accessed here.
The key elements of the Bill are:
- It introduces a principle of mutual recognition for goods which will allow any good that meets relevant regulatory requirements in one part of the UK to be sold in any other part of the UK.
- Non-discrimination clauses for goods which ensure that regulation made by any part of the UK does not discriminate from another part of the UK.
- There are also mutual recognition and non-discrimination provisions for services which will mean service providers that are authorised to provide services in one part of the UK can provide services in other parts and they cannot be discriminated against. There are exceptions for legal and financial services and healthcare.
- It introduces a system for the recognition of professional qualifications across the UK internal market which allows professionals qualified in one of the four UK nations to access the same profession in a different nation without needing to requalify.
- An Office for the Internal Market (OMI) will be established within the CMA to carry out reporting, advisory and monitoring functions.
The Government’s timetable for the Internal Market Bill will see it fast-tracked through the House of Commons in the next two weeks.
The Bill has caused controversy because the UK Government has announced it will give itself the power to break international law, by giving ministers powers to amend how the UK implements the Northern Ireland protocol agreed as part of the EU Withdrawal Agreement.
Following an emergency meeting of the EU-UK Joint Committee on 10 September 2020, the EU called on the UK Government to withdraw the controversial measures in the Internal Market Bill ‘in the shortest time possible and in any case by the end of the month’. EU Commission Vice President, Maroš Šefčovič, said that ‘violating the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement would break international law, undermine trust and put at risk the ongoing future relationship negotiations’. The EU also intimated that it will not hesitate to use legal remedies to address any violations of the Withdrawal Agreement.
Devolved nations response
The UK Government’s plans for the Internal Market Bill have also been criticised by the Scottish and Welsh Governments. Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, called it a ‘full frontal assault on devolution’ and Welsh First Minister, Mark Drakeford, said it represents a ‘smash and grab’ on the devolution settlement established 20 years ago.