The potential effects of the UK Internal Market Bill on Wales and the current devolution settlement are significant. This Bill potentially undermines the current devolution settlement by providing the UK Government with a suite of quick and mechanisms for hollowing out the right of the Senedd, and other devolved Parliaments, to regulate within currently defined areas of devolved competence as it sees fit. The Welsh Government, and some opposition parties in the Senedd are concerned that the long-term survival of the United Kingdom is under great strain and that the approach taken in the White Paper will exacerbate those tensions in a way which, if not addressed, will accelerate the break-up of the Union.
Wales’ interests, and those of the UK as a whole, are, without doubt, best served by ensuring smooth trading arrangements for businesses across all four nations and it would seem self-evident that the bast way of achieving this should be a via collaborative piece of work in which all the governments within the UK have the opportunity to participate fully and on an equal basis. It can be argued that this legislation is simply not necessary as the UK Internal Market is already highly integrated and that it simply serves to undermine three years of intra-governmental collaboration via Common Frameworks.
Parts 1 and 2 of the Bill would enforce the principles of mutual recognition and non-discrimination in the case of almost all goods and services which originate or are legally imported to any part of the United Kingdom (defined in the case of non-discrimination as merely goods which ‘pass through’).
This would mean, for example, that while the Senedd could follow through with an intention to ban nine types of single use plastics in Wales if they were produced in or imported into Wales, they would be unable to prevent these same products which were produced in or imported into England or Scotland from being sold in Wales if they could be lawfully sold there. This significantly undermines the role, scope and effectiveness of devolved administrations to operate as the duly elected legislature by removing the current rights of the devolved institutions to implement changes to the regulatory environment in devolved policy areas governed to date by EU law, such as labelling, or environmental standards.
It also appears that this Bill would make it illegal to insist on these imported items being labelled in a way which highlighted their damaging impact on the environment. While not specifically preventing the Senedd from exercising its powers, it renders them meaningless, in a context where the vast majority of goods for sale in Wales come or pass through other parts of the United Kingdom.