Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove and Business Secretary Alok Sharma will unveil proposals to ensure the whole UK remains covered by a single market for trade following the end of the country’s transition out of the EU on December 31. The plan is designed to close a loophole that could open up once Britain quits the EU’s single market that could allow trade barriers to be imposed in some parts of the country. Ministers are understood to be concerned that nationalist politicians of the devolved assemblies in Scotland or Wales could attempt to undermine the Union by imposing tariffs or even blockading English goods.
The worry has been intensified after Ms Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister, refused to rule out ordering visitors from England to Scotland into enforced quarantine.
Without changing the law, English beef or Welsh lamb could theoretically be banned in Scotland or Scotch Whisky producers could lose access to supply from English barley farmers.
Mr Gove and Mr Sharma will publish proposals for strengthening the UK’s internal market guaranteeing the continued ability of all UK companies to trade unhindered in every part of the Union.
They opened a four-week consultation with the assemblies, local authorities, consumer groups and businesses before legislating on the issue.
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Whitehall officials point out that businesses depend on trade with the UK’s home nations more than any other partner.
In Scotland, sales of produce to the rest of the UK are worth £52.1billion per year, accounting for over 60 percent of all exports, more than all other nations which Scotland trades with combined.
Similarly, about 50 percent of Northern Ireland’s sales are to Great Britain and 75 percent of exports of Welsh goods are consumed in other parts of the UK.
Mr Sharma said: “The UK’s internal market has functioned seamlessly for centuries.
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Michael Gove and Business Secretary Alok Sharma will unveil the plan for a UK single market
Alok Sharma says the plan ensures businesses will be able to continue trading freely across the UK
“When we exit the Transition Period at the end of the year, we want to ensure the most successful political and economic union of nations in the world continues to grow and thrive.
“This plan protects jobs and livelihoods. 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.
“Ensuring businesses will be able to continue trading freely across all four corners of the UK without the burden of inconsistent regulation or additional costs will be essential as we fire up our economic engines as we recover from coronavirus.”
In a sop to the nationalists, the proposals will also pave the way for a wide-range of Brussels regulatory powers to be handed to the devolved administrations at Holyrood, Cardiff and Stormont.
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Ministers are concerned nationalist politicians could attempt to undermine the Union
Powers in at least 70 policy areas including energy efficiency of buildings, air quality and animal welfare will be handed to the assemblies.
Mr Gove said: “This plan is a power surge to the devolved administrations, giving them powers in dozens more areas.
“As powers flow back from Brussels to the devolved administrations in Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff – as well as to the UK Government – we want to build on the good progress we have already made.
“We will develop new ways of working together and learning from each other to help create more opportunities for jobs and investment for businesses and citizens across the United Kingdom.
“So we will work over the coming weeks with the devolved administrations in Cardiff, Belfast and Edinburgh on a new structure for how we can cooperate better and share ideas, and we will be bringing proposals to the table to agree a way forward.
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“We should be learning from one another, combining the expertise of each nation to share ideas, innovation and, where appropriate, put in place processes for voluntary cooperation.
“People right across the UK want their Governments and institutions to work together at every level to improve their lives, and the UK Government is committed to working to do this.”
Meanwhile, a further round of talks to try to break the deadlock in the EU trade negotiations began in Brussels yesterday.
Boris Johnson’s chief negotiator David Frost had dinner with his EU counterpart in the city to informally float ideas for closing the gaps on a string of issues including fishing rights and regulation.