Business Secretary Alok Sharma gives update on plans for UK internal market

16 July 2020

The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Secretary made a statement on the Government’s plans to preserve the UK internal market after the Brexit transition period.

Earlier today, the Government published a White Paper that sets out proposals to maintain the flow of goods and services in the UK’s internal market (the market between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) after the Brexit transition period, which ends on 31 December 2020.

When the transition period ends, the UK and its devolved administrations will no longer be collectively bound by EU law. Agriculture, fisheries, food standards and environmental policies will revert back to the UK Government and the devolved nations, creating the possibility of divergence in these areas.

BIES Secretary Alok Sharma MP came before MPs to explain the White Paper that had been published.

Alok Sharma MP: "shared prosperity"

Alok Sharma told the House that the UK's internal market was the "the bedrock of our shared prosperity" and said that the plans were to designed to continue this "hugely successful economic Union". He emphasised that this will ensure that the "cost of doing business in the UK stays as low as possible".

Mr Sharma said that the plans to enshrine a UK internal market will be "done in a manner that respects and upholds the devolution settlements" and that the devolved nations will enjoy an "unprecedented level of powers".

The Minister revealed that businesses will be given a "market access commitment". He also committed to the "principles of mutual recognition and non-discrimination", which mean goods and services from one part of the United Kingdom can be sold to other parts. He emphasised that subsidy control is a "reserved matter for the whole United Kingdom", which "has never been a devolved matter", and said legislation would be announced for this in due course.

He stated:

"We invite all devolved Administrations to work together and to agree common approaches to cross-cutting issues such as regulatory standards."

Edward Miliband MP: "race to the bottom"

Responding on behalf of the Opposition, Shadow BEIS Secretary Edward Miliband said that he supported maintaining the UK's internal market. However, he stated that there were "significant problems" with the proposals, and noted that the Welsh First Minister was meant to receive a draft of the White Paper last March, but had still not been given it yesterday afternoon.

Mr Miliband also stated that the "real challenge" was in maintaining an internal market without barriers while "at the same time respecting devolution" on important issues. He said for the past forty years the EU had set minimum standards that all four nations had to follow, but that the White Paper presented proposed that "the lowest standard chosen by one Parliament must become the minimum standard for all". He called this a "race to the bottom" that would "force" the other nations to accept goods and services produced to lower standards.

The Shadow Minister asked the Secretary of State four questions:

  • how all nations of the UK will to agree minimum standards that "respect the voice of each nation" when the White Paper proposes that the lowest standard amongst nations wins
  • what accountable body will be formed to resolve disputes
  •  why the Government does not agree to legally binding commitments on standards in areas such as agriculture
  • when the Government's plans will be published

He concluded:

"It is time, too, that they showed a desire to build constitutional consensus, rather than risking constitutional conflict, and the White Paper is not a good start."

    Image: Pixabay

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