IN a crowded field this has been yet another unprecedented week in British politics.

While all eyes in Scotland were focused on the anticipated attack on Holyrood’s powers in the UK Internal Market Bill, nothing had quite prepared anyone for the shock of finding out that as well as overriding the devolution settlement, the British Government intended to explicitly disavow their international treaty obligations and their duty to obey international law.

It is difficult to overstate the enormity of this. The UK Government is openly threatening to depart from its obligations under two international treaties – the Withdrawal Agreement and the Good Friday Agreement; a major trade treaty and a major peace treaty with significant implications for human rights.

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If the Internal Market Bill is passed into law, what moral authority the UK still has on the world stage will be gone. Indeed, some may say the damage is already done. Why should China care about the UK’s condemnation of the National Security Law they imposed on Hong Kong? So what if it is in violation of China’s international obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration? How can the UK Government ever again call out those who flout international law.

So what’s really going on here?

In so far as devolution is concerned, most people recognise that Brexit necessitates a rethink on how free trade operates within the UK in respect of both goods and services. We won’t be operating under EU law anymore so there is a need for common standards to be set across the UK. The devolved governments have accepted this and offered to work with the UK Government on setting up new frameworks. But what this bill effectively does is to cut the devolved governments out of any decision making and impose new rules top down from Westminster. This means that if Westminster is happy for you to be eating chlorinated chicken, you will be eating it regardless of any food safety or animal welfare concerns Holyrood might have.

Furthermore, under clause 46 of the bill, EU funding for infrastructure projects in devolved areas such as health, education and housing, previously funnelled to suitable projects by the Scottish Government, will be replaced by direct funding from the Westminster Government. The devolved institutions will be bypassed and public subsidies will be set according to the political priorities of a Tory Government which most Scots didn’t vote for, rather than the SNP Government in Edinburgh which we elected to make decisions in these devolved areas.

Westminster is taking back control and recentralising the UK. This is not what the overwhelming majority of Scots voted for in the 1997 devolution referendum. In fact, it is quite the opposite.

In so far as the UK Government’s obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement are concerned the bill is all about getting Boris Johnson off the hook he hoisted himself on to in order to get a deal before last year’s deadline. In order to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland in the Northern Ireland protocol the UK Government agreed to special arrangements for Northern Ireland, making it subject to the EU customs code and the rules of the single market so far as most goods are concerned.

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This meant a customs frontier between Northern Ireland and Great Britain and the UK’s agreement to abide by EU rules about state aid in respect of trade between Northern Ireland and the EU. Under EU law, state aid (government subsidies for industry) is not allowed without special permission because its seen as an anti-competitive practice which undermines free trade. There was also a significant continuing role for the Tories’ bete noire, the European Court of Justice.

IN order to get around this, clauses 42, 43 and 45 of the bill will enable ministers to make regulations about goods leaving Northern Ireland and state aid which will have effect “notwithstanding their incompatibility with any rule of international or domestic law whatsoever”. And ministers will also be empowered to block the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union and the European Commission over state aid rules despite the UK’s explicit agreement to accept this jurisdiction in the Withdrawal Agreement.

Even if this power is never used, (and why pass it if you don’t intend to use it?), its very existence breaches the Withdrawal Agreement, Article 4 which states that the UK must ensure that the agreement is available and enforceable in domestic law so that it has the same effect that EU law has in the other member states. Once the power is used, articles 5 and 10 of the Northern Ireland protocol will also be breached. If this happens a hard border on the island of Ireland could be back on the table.

Finally, for the legal geeks, clause 45 of the bill seeks to prevent judicial review on any normal domestic law or human rights grounds of any regulations to be made under clauses 42-43 of the bill. Generally, the courts take a dim view of attempts to oust judicial review of secondary legislation and so a potential court battle over the true extent of parliamentary sovereignty could be on the cards. This might dovetail nicely with a Scottish challenge to the UK Government’s broader plans to “reform” judicial review on the grounds that they would breach the Treaty of Union.

But where does this leave Scotland more generally?

Professor Brigid Laffan, the eminent Irish political scientist and director of the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies at the European University Institute, tweeted: “The Scots need to wise up to the kind of state that Brexit UK has become and take back control.”

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She is of course right. But these developments surely pose potential problems for the strategy of staking all on the granting of a Section 30 Order from this UK Government. How should we deal with a Government that doesn’t obey international law? A Government that tries to oust the jurisdiction of the courts? A Government that is prepared to disregard the overwhelming mandate won for the current devolved settlement in the 1997 referendum? Just how does one negotiate with a rogue state? Is it reasonable to continue with a strategy designed for dealing with a state that obeys the rule of law and respects democratic mandates or is something a little more innovative required?

The Scottish Government has not ruled out recourse to litigation either in respect of the provisions of this bill or, indeed, in respect of the future refusal of a Section 30 Order. But what will we do if court action fails or if we win but this rogue Government refuses to respect the judgment of the court?

For the time being at least, it has been made very clear to me that these are decisions above my pay grade, but they are decisions which will require to be taken nonetheless.