Today the Government published the long awaited Internal Markets Bill.  To doyennes of EU competition law much of it will be very familiar.  That should come as no surprise, as its purpose is to ensure that just as the UK benefited from the EU’s internal market prior to Brexit, it continues to benefit from free trade within these islands and between the home nations.

There are all the usual provisions on goods, professional qualifications and the provision of services that you could expect to see in legislation like this.

This Bill is not welcome news to the UK government’s detractors however.  Remain supporters, such as they still exist on the Tory benches, have already been vocal in their opposition to aspects of the legislation, as have others from across the Parliament who oppose Brexit

Much of the media attention has focused on changes to the Northern Ireland protocol where the UK government is seeking to ensure that in terms of goods and state aid the UK’s internal market is not disrupted.  While there has been much reported outrage on breaking international law, the EU’s superfans apparently seem to think that it is perfectly fine to deny food to the people of Northern Ireland….or so the EU’s negotiating strategy has been reported, so far, with no denial from the EU.  There is also some genuine concern over this departure from British norms on treaties but it is difficult to see what other approach the UK Government could take in response to the EU threat.

To those who have studied the EU’s tactics in the past, and to many weary Northern Ireland unionists, none of this will come as a surprise.  The cynically minded will conclude that the EU clearly planned to use Northern Ireland, the Irish Border and the peace process as a bargaining chip from the start.   Indeed, the UK Government has seemingly admitted that it was hopelessly naïve to assume otherwise.

The state aid provisions have already generated an entirely predictable reaction from the SNP Government in Scotland and the increasingly ‘indi-curious’ Labour Government in Cardiff.  This will come as no surprise to long-term watchers of the nationalist politics of the UK’s devolved administrations.  With the UK set to replace the EU’s largesse with direct funding of infrastructure projects and state aid provisions, they see an existential threat to their nationalist dreams.  “Independence within Europe” is a strategy which might leave many English observers cold; but in Scotland and Wales it is what has sat behind nationalist enthusiasm for the EU from the very start.

Its detractors might complain; but ultimately the Bill will be driven through, or not, by the Government’s 80 seat majority.  Labour will struggle to oppose this legislation for fear of sending a message to its base that it still opposes Brexit.  If the waters get choppy in the Lords the Salisbury convention has a part to play here too, as these provisions were in the Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto.  Watch for various activist lawyers attempting to join the fray.  The fact that the provisions on Northern Ireland are detailed in black and white anticipates this.  One thing is certain, the progress of this legislation will not be an easy ride for the Government or Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.

For further analysis or to learn more about the legislation or what Barndoor Strategy can do for you please get in touch.