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Westminster 'power grab' concern over Highland agriculture industry

By Alan Hendry

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Maree Todd said devolution would be undermined by the 'blatant power grab' from the UK government.
Maree Todd said devolution would be undermined by the 'blatant power grab' from the UK government.

North MSP Maree Todd has warned of a threat to the Highlands' agriculture and food sector following the Westminster government’s proposals for a UK internal market.

She says she is concerned that devolved areas at risk include food safety, minimum pricing, environmental policy and animal health and welfare.

The UK government envisages internal market plans being brought in once the UK exits the European Union single market at the end of the year.

Following a debate in the Scottish Parliament on the internal market, Ms Todd – an SNP MSP for the Highlands and Islands – said: “This is a blatant power grab from the UK government and serves to completely undermine devolution.

“An area of great concern is the impact these proposals will have on the agriculture and food and drink sector. If imposed, our world-famous Highland produce will without a doubt be at risk.”

She warned that, due to the "mutual recognition" clause included in the white paper, devolved administrations would be forced to accept food standards set by the UK government and parliament.

“The ‘mutual recognition’ clause is a direct threat to Scotland’s high-quality food standards – and what makes it all the more concerning is the prospect of a UK/US trade deal," Ms Todd said.

“If the Scottish Parliament were to legislate a ban on the sale of chlorinated chicken or hormone-fed beef following a trade deal with the US, the UK government would have the power to overrule this and force their sale in Scotland.

“Quality Scottish meat and fish products, reared to high animal welfare standards, could be ruthlessly undercut by cheap, mass-produced food from outside Scotland.

“NFU Scotland has echoed the same concerns, stating that the current proposals pose a significant threat to devolution.

“The UK government claims these proposals are to protect businesses and consumers. But, make no mistake, these proposals would be bad for business in the Highlands, threatening to undercut world-famous Highland produce – on which thousands of jobs depend – in a race to the bottom.

“The UK government must listen to the voices of the devolved administrations and reconsider these reckless proposals.”

NFU Scotland pointed said the proposals "pose a significant threat to the development of common frameworks and to devolution".

Union president Andrew McCornick said: “The proposal on ‘mutual recognition’ contained in the paper raises the potential for common frameworks to be rendered meaningless.

“Since 2017, the common frameworks process has intended to specifically manage policy differences between all parts of the UK based on agreement and founded on respect for devolution.

“Common frameworks can manage the practical regulatory and market implications of the UK leaving the EU and is the specific tool that was jointly designed by the UK government and devolved administrations.

“However, the UK internal market proposals put forward limit the devolved administrations’ ability to act if any standards were lowered and give the UK government a final say in areas of devolved policy, such as agriculture, the environment or animal health and welfare.

“As it stands, the UK government proposals for legislation on a UK internal market undermine the common frameworks process both in principle, as they move from agreement to imposition, and in practice by removing the incentive for the UK government and the devolved administrations to agree ways of aligning and managing differences when mutual recognition rules require acceptance of standards from other parts of the UK.”

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