Bill introduced to protect jobs and trade during Brexit transition

A new Bill to protect jobs and trade across the whole of the United Kingdom after the Brexit Transition Period ends will be introduced to Parliament today.

The UK Internal Market Bill will guarantee companies can trade unhindered in every part of the UK.

From 1 January 2021, powers in a range of policy areas previously exercised at an EU level will flow directly to the devolved administrations in Holyrood, Cardiff Bay and Stormont for the first time. This will give the devolved legislatures power over more issues than they have ever had before, including over air quality, energy efficiency of buildings and elements of employment law, without removing any of their current powers.

The Bill will avoid this uncertainty for business by creating an open, fair, and competitive market across the United Kingdom, ensuring regulations from one part of the country will be recognised in another. Each devolved administration will still be able to set their own standards as they do now, while also being able to benefit from the trade of businesses based anywhere in the UK. The rules in this bill will also bind the UK government when acting on behalf of England in areas of devolved competence.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: “For centuries the UK’s internal market has been the cornerstone of our shared prosperity, delivering unparalleled stability and economic growth across the Union. This Bill will protect our highly integrated market by guaranteeing that companies can continue to trade unhindered in every part of the UK after the Transition Period ends and EU law falls away.

“By providing clarity over rules that will govern the UK economy after we take back control of our money and laws, we can increase investment and create new jobs across the United Kingdom, while our maintaining world-leading standards for consumers, workers, food and the environment. Without these necessary reforms, the way we trade goods and services between the home nations could be seriously impacted, harming the way we do business within our own borders. Now is not the time to create uncertainty for business with new barriers and additional costs that would trash our chances of an economic recovery.”

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove said: ”The devolved administrations of the UK will enjoy a power surge when the Transition Period ends in December. Holyrood, Stormont and Cardiff Bay will soon have more powers than ever before and there will be no change to the powers the devolved administrations already have. This Bill will also give the UK government new spending powers to drive our economic recovery from COVID-19 and support businesses and communities right across the UK.

“No longer will unelected EU bodies be spending our money on our behalf. These new spending powers will mean that these decisions will now be made in the UK, focus on UK priorities and be accountable to the UK Parliament and people of the UK.”

Changing role of the CMA

The UK government has also laid out plans to establish an independent monitoring body, the Office for the Internal Market (OIM), to support the smooth running of trade within the United Kingdom. The body will sit within the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and provide independent, technical advice to parliament and the devolved administrations on regulation that may damage the UK’s internal market.

The reporting and monitoring role undertaken by the OIM will be non-binding and carried independently from ministers and devolved administrations, ensuring impartiality and transparency when developing its evidence. Where there is a matter of dispute, the OIM will ultimately provide such reports to the UK Parliament and each of the devolved legislatures and it will be for these bodies, supported by their respective administrations and intergovernmental processes, to determine how to take action in response, minimising the need to seek court action.

Andrea Coscelli, CEO of the Competition and Markets Authority, said: “The new independent Office for the Internal Market will stand ready to provide technical advice to the UK government and parliament and the devolved administrations and legislatures on the smooth running of trade within the United Kingdom. The CMA will ensure that the OIM fulfils its role with professionalism, impartiality and analytical rigour.”


Industry reaction

Susannah Streeter, Senior Investment and Markets Commentator, Hargreaves Lansdown

’Sterling’s dip today comes as little surprise amid the ratcheting up of tensions between the EU and the UK over Brexit. Boris Johnson’s government is now planning new legislation which would over-ride significant parts of the Withdrawal agreement. Although it’s being called a ‘standby plan’, the proposals indicate that if there is no deal reached a border would effectively be re-imposed between the Republic and Northern Ireland as goods moving in both directions could be subject to checks and tariffs. That has prompted concerns there could be retaliatory measures imposed between Dover and Calais. As a consequence there has been a bit of a sell-off in sterling today. Against the euro, sterling had reached its highest level since May at the end of last week, but Friday’s disappointing PMI data on the UK construction sectors has also put pressure on the pound, as it indicates the UK’s coronavirus recovery is still fragile.’