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Devolved finance ministers hit out at controversial Internal Markets Bill

Devolved finance ministers hit out at controversial Internal Markets Bill

The Finance Ministers of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have met to voice their concerns about the financial implications the UK Internal Market Bill will have on the devolved administrations of the United Kingdom.

The concerns - which were also put to the prime minister at Wednesday's Prime Minister's Questions - are that spending powers set out in the Bill will override the existing devolution settlement and enable the UK Government to undertake spending in devolved areas, allowing them to essentially circumvent devolution.

Wales' Finance Minister, Rebecca Evans, said: “I am deeply concerned that the Bill gives UK Ministers, for the first time since devolution, powers to fund activity in areas which are clearly devolved to Wales."

“In Wales funding decisions are taken in partnership with local communities, to ensure that they reflect the needs of the people in Wales. The powers set out in the Bill completely undermine devolution and will see decisions currently taken in Wales clawed back by the UK Government.”

Whilst Scotland’s Finance Secretary, Kate Forbes stated: “It is entirely unacceptable that – with no prior notice - the UK Government has written provisions into the Bill that presume Whitehall control over the delivery of replacements for the EU funding programme in Scotland; a programme that Scottish ministers have delivered successfully for decades."

“This bill would also allow the UK Government to dictate how money is spent in devolved areas without the consent of Scottish Ministers. It puts at risk funding for a whole host of capital programmes – schools, hospitals and infrastructure. It reverses the devolution process and we will oppose any attempt to bypass the Scottish Parliament and Government which are elected by the people of Scotland.

“Not only is it in contravention of the devolution settlement, but it has the potential to create confusion, duplication and unnecessary additional bureaucracy at a time when economic recovery is paramount.”

Conor Evans of Northern Ireland developed the join concerns further: "This is greatly concerning and could have huge implications for the Good Friday Agreement. The British Government should not interfere in funding matters which are currently the responsibility of the Devolved Administrations."

It has been suggested that the government might amend the bill to avoid a potential commons defeat, with many backbench conservatives opposing the additional powers that it would give the Westminster government and the potential implications of this for devolution.

It is expected that the government will permit an amendment to the Internal Markets Bill that will mean the House of Commons will vote in any event where it may be invoked, instead of ministers being able to act unilaterally. This comes after heavy criticism and the resignation of Lord Keen, one of the UK's most senior law officers, over the bill violating principles of British and International Law.

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