NICOLA Sturgeon has said only independence can protect the powers of the Scottish Parliament as she described Boris Johnson’s Internal Market Bill as “an abomination” which will “cripple devolution”.

The First Minister said her administration would challenge the legislation – which the UK Government confirmed would breach international law by over-riding parts of the EU Withdrawal Agreement – “at every turn”.

Johnson has previously been warned by European leaders that breaching the treaty would result in the end of free trade negotiations, meaning the UK would have to crash out of the bloc on a No-Deal basis in January.

He has also been told his Internal Market Bill would risk the peace process in Northern Ireland by over-riding the long negotiated backstop provisions and lead to a hard border on the island.

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“The UK Government are not only set to break international law – it is clear they are now set to break devolution,” said the First Minister, responding to the publication of the bill yesterday.

“The Tories’ proposed bill for a so-called UK Internal Market is an abomination.

“It is a naked power grab which would cripple devolution.

“The plan for mutual recognition of standards in reality means a race to the bottom when it comes to things like food standards and environmental protections.

“It would prevent the Scottish Parliament from effectively legislating in a whole range of areas, including laws covering the food people put on their tables, which is currently produced to high EU animal welfare and food safety standards.

“That could be undermined by Scotland having to accept lower standards set by a UK Government in pursuit of a US or other trade deals – and could see us forced to accept chlorinated chicken.

“And their plans to trample over devolved spending powers in Scotland and directly fund their own projects could see projects like Boris Johnson’s bridge to Northern Ireland being funded instead of schools and hospitals – no matter what people in Scotland choose.

“Under this bill, the Scottish Parliament would not have been able to pass its world-leading legislation on minimum unit pricing of alcohol – a fact which will deeply concern the broad coalition of Scottish civic society which backed this vital public health measure.”

She added that the Scottish Government and the SNP at Westminster would “fiercely resist” the attack on the powers of the Scottish Parliament.

“We will fight tooth and nail against this shameless bid to reverse the devolution of power which was so overwhelmingly endorsed by the people of Scotland in the referendum of 1997,” she said.

She concluded: “It is also now clearer than ever that the only way to defend the powers of the Scottish Parliament is with independence.

“And when an independence referendum comes – as it will – it will no longer be a choice between independence and the status quo, but between independence and a Tory regime which is intent on crippling Holyrood.”

Her intervention comes just over a week after she announced that the Scottish Government would be publishing a draft bill before the Holyrood election setting out the terms, question and timing of a second independence referendum.

Polls have suggested that 55% of Scots now back independence – reversing the result of the 2014 vote.

At Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford refused to back down after being accused of calling Johnson a “liar”.

The pair engaged in a heated exchange in the Commons over proposals contained in the bill.

Blackford branded them “nothing short of an attack on Scotland’s Parliament and an affront to the people of Scotland”.

The Prime Minister in turn described Blackford’s attacks on the legislation as “totally illogical” arguing “it is a massive devolutionary act”.

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As the exchanges concluded, Tory MPs shouted “withdraw” as they accused Blackford of labelling Johnson a “liar”.

Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle asked Blackford to withdraw the remark.

Blackford said: “It’s on the face of the bill that the Government of the UK is going to trample over devolution, that is not a lie.”

Sir Lindsay replied: “Mr Blackford you’re a great member of this House, you do the right things by this House and I’ve accepted that you’ve withdrawn it.”

Blackford earlier told MPs: “This legislation breaks international law but it also breaks domestic law.

“The Prime Minister and his friends a parcel of rogues, are creating a rogue state, one where the rule of law does not apply.

“Why does the PM think that he and his friends are above the law?”