The post-Brexit UK internal market needs mutual trust and respect between governments, Holyrood’s Finance & Constitution Committee has stated.
In an initial response to the UK Government’s consultation on the UK Internal Market white paper, the committee maintains that an internal market must, as a minimum, be based on inclusive dialogue with the devolved governments, Parliaments and wider public.
The letter, to Business Secretary Alok Sharma, describes it as "deeply regrettable" that the proposals were published during the Scottish Parliament’s recess period and that the consultation lasted only four weeks. Like its counterpart in the Welsh Parliament, it considers this timeframe "wholly inadequate"; and that as the proposals contain "little detail as to how the mechanisms for managing an internal market will work in practice, there is little scope for meaningful engagement by the devolved legislatures and stakeholders before the introduction of a UK Bill".
While the committee recognises the economic benefits to businesses across the four nations of the UK of rules that ensure there are no barriers to trading within the UK, it observes that EU experience has taught that there is more than one way to design an internal market.
Trade-offs and balances are involved in making an internal market, and the operation of an internal market "depends upon its governance architecture and its relationship with constitutional settlements... the legal design of an internal market involves choices, balances and trade-offs that demand detailed consideration, and must not be imposed".
The committee asks for further clarification of the Government's intentions and promises that it will carry out further work once the bill is published. It seeks full consultation on a draft bill before the legislation is introduced.
Committee convener Bruce Crawford MSP commented: "The committee’s view is that there is an onus on all four governments and legislatures across the UK to work constructively together to seek a solution to this complex and challenging issue.
"This must be achieved through mutual trust and respect for the existing constitutional arrangements within the UK.
"In particular – as this Committee has emphasised on numerous occasions – the UK Government, post-Brexit, must respect the devolution settlement. There must be a transparent and inclusive public debate on the white paper proposals which allows all interested parties and the wider public to contribute."
He added: "The significance of the proposals for all citizens across the UK means that the solution cannot be left to the UK Government to decide.
"A consensus needs to be achieved and this requires a much longer, inclusive and more detailed debate than what is currently being proposed."
Conservative members of the committee did not support the terms of the letter.