Westminster’s threat to divert powers over state subsidies to businesses and industry away from the Scottish parliament has moved a step closer to becoming a reality.
UK government plans to grab control over subsidies once paid through EU state aid were passed in a second reading of the Subsidy Control Bill by 287 votes to 50.
The vote suggests the Conservative party will brush aside protests from the Scottish and Welsh governments that this is an attack on devolution.
This latest move follows the controversial introduction of the Internal Market Act which saw Westminster seize control of powers previously exercised by the EU. The Scottish government had expected to inherit those powers relating to devolved matters but that was ruled out by Boris Johnson’s government.
This is an ill-disguised attempt to diminish the powers and responsibilities of the Scottish government, and this parliament
Scottish constitution secretary Angus Robertson claimed that devolution is under “systematic attack” from a hostile UK government, which was taking control of powers devolved to Holyrood.
He told the Scottish parliament’s constitution committee that post-Brexit policies and spending plans were being used “as an ill-disguised attempt to diminish the powers and responsibilities of the Scottish government, and this parliament”.
The new legislation shows an extension of Westminster’s approach. If passed – as looks likely – it will give the UK government power to decide subsidies to Scottish businesses and industries without reference to Holyrood. It can over-rule Holyrood decisions on how subsidies should be used in the best interests of the Scottish economy.
The new regime replaces EU state aid rules – which applied until the Brexit transition period ended on December 31 2020 – and the interim measures which followed.
Westminster business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said ominously: “This Government is determined to seize the opportunities arising from Brexit.
“Now that the UK has left the European Union and we are no longer bound by the EU’s regime, we have the freedom to develop a new bespoke system of subsidy control for the UK that delivers on our national priorities.’’
It’s a worrying power grab by a Prime minister who has already provoked fears about his commitment to devolution last November when he reportedly told a Zoom meeting with Tory MPs that it had been a ‘’disaster’’ in Scotland.
This reflects a new Conservative ideology; which is deliberately dismantling the powers of devolved governments and their accountability as elected governments
The Subsidy Control Bill has also come under fire in Wales. It will ‘’deliberately dismantle’’ the power of the Welsh government, said Dwyfor-Meirionnydd MP Liz Saville Roberts yesterday. She added: “This Bill will steamroll devolved competences.”
And she went on to suggest that it reflected ‘’a new Conservative ideology; which is deliberately dismantling the powers of devolved governments and their accountability as elected governments.”
The Welsh Government has previously expressed “serious concerns” about the bill and said it “only reflects the narrow interests of the UK government.”
Nicola Sturgeon had already described earlier UK government plans to deny Scotland a say on business subsidies as “a full-scale assault on devolution”.
The Labour Party has said it will not vote against the government plan.