The minister for overseeing Brexit preparations has insisted there would be no “regression” in standards on environmental protections and workers rights if the withdrawal deal is agreed to.
Speaking to Holyrood’s finance and constitution committee on Monday morning via video conference, Michael Gove MP said there would be legally binding targets on sustaining biodiversity and environmental protections once the UK has left the EU.
Mr Gove was scrutinised by a cross party group of MSPs on the implications of Brexit on devolution in Scotland.
Earlier this month international trade secretary Liz Truss said scrapping environmental protections was “vital for giving us the freedom and flexibility to strike new trade deals and become more competitive”.
Mr Gove told the committee the UK government was planning a “landmark” environmental bill which would maintain the “high standards” of the EU.
He was also asked why Scotland could not have similar consent and access powers to Northern Ireland in the event of the UK leaving the EU.
Under the UK Government’s proposal, Northern Ireland would remain an entry point to the EU, but also remain in the UK customs area.
This was negotiated to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, according to Mr Gove, given the “troubled history” of Northern Ireland.
He argued the Scottish parliament “was being listened to” but because the UK was the partner and member state of the EU then it was only right the negotiations were channelled through Westminster.
He said: “This liberal agreement will be in Scotland’s interests and the interests of the wider United Kingdom. It allows us to leave in a smooth and orderly fashion.
“It ensures we can move quickly to concluding a free trade agreement with no quotas, tariffs or quantitative restrictions on the access of our goods to European markets, but it also ensures that we can take decisions about things like financial services in in London and in Edinburgh, to take advantage of a greater degree of regulatory flexibility.
“The Scottish Government has pointed out this deal will enable additional investment and new jobs in the fishery sector, which will help revive coastal communities.
“We will be outside the CAP so the Scottish Parliament or the Scottish Government can design an agricultural policy specifically in the interests of Scotland’s farmers and allow new opportunities for Scotland’s farmers and free producers to export across the globe.
“There are new opportunities globally to export.. (and) at the same time, safeguard friction-less as possible access to the EU market.”
Committee member and Scottish Green leader Patrick Harvie said: “It is clear the new withdrawal agreement is designed to allow a race to the bottom on regulations that protect our rights, our environment and our working conditions.
“UK Ministers have repeatedly made their deregulation agenda clear and are now seeking to ram this agenda through just days after its publication with almost zero scrutiny.
“Simply accepting the bland assurances given by Michael Gove and his hard right colleagues would be absurd.”