THE Tories have accused the Scottish Government of “attempting to stoke a constitutional grievance” after it emerged that the Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) could be scrapped this month if UK ministers do not give it the go-ahead.

On Thursday, circular economy minister Lorna Slater said it is “essential” to secure an exemption from the UK Internal Market Act if the scheme is to proceed.

She told the Scottish Grocers Federation that if no exemption has been secured by the end of May, the Scottish Government will have to make a “proactive decision” as to whether it is “viable”.

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The BBC has reported that it understands such a decision is unlikely within this timeframe.

It comes as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been urged to directly intervene and allow the exemption so that the DRS can go ahead next year. 

The DRS would introduce a 20p deposit on the price of drinks in cans and bottles which is repaid to the consumer when they are returned to a retailer or a reverse vending machine.

The scheme has come under fire from some business groups and when Humza Yousaf became First Minister he delayed its introduction until March next year.

The UK's Internal Market Act regulates trade in the different parts of the UK following Brexit.

The exemption is needed as the scheme in Scotland is due to begin in March 2024, ahead of similar initiatives in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Scottish Tory MSP Maurice Golden (pictured below) dismissed Slater’s claims as a “red herring”, saying that if the scheme fails it will be the Scottish Government’s fault.

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He told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme on Friday: “It’s an utterly bizarre intervention, to be honest, and it’s a red herring on the exemption.

“My understanding is that while an exemption would be welcome, the financial viability of this scheme is not encroached upon by an exemption from the Internal Market Act.

“This is again Lorna Slater and the Scottish Government attempting to stoke constitutional grievance.”

Golden said everyone wants to see the DRS operate successfully but he claimed Slater has decided the scheme would be “too difficult”.

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Pressed on why the UK Government has not yet given an exemption under the Internal Market Act, which regulates trade around the UK, Golden said there are not yet enough details available.

He said: “It’s reasonable that we want to know what the scheme is before anyone can make a decision over whether an exemption could be granted.”

On Thursday, Slater said: “We have engaged with the UK Government in good faith on the exclusion for Scotland’s deposit return scheme for nearly two years now.

“Despite following the mutually agreed process, we have still to be given necessary assurances that this will be provided in good time.

“This is creating uncertainty and confusion for all the businesses that have worked so hard to prepare for the scheme going live.

“I urge the UK Government to agree the exclusion by the end of May at the latest.

“Doing so is absolutely essential to the successful delivery of the scheme.”

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It comes as groups such as Greenpeace UK, Keep Britain Tidy and the Marine Conservation Society signed an open letter to the Prime Minister, demanding the UK Government grants an exemption for DRS in Scotland under the Internal Market Act.

The letter, which has also been signed by the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland, Friends of the Earth Scotland, WWF Scotland, Keep Scotland Beautiful, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful and Keep Wales Tidy, also urges the PM to include glass bottles in the DRS schemes planned for England and Northern Ireland.

The charities said DRS is “the single most effective policy tool available to reduce litter in our towns and countryside”.

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They told Sunak (pictured above) that businesses in Scotland have “already invested hundreds of millions of pounds” ahead of the scheme being brought in, and they “would be substantially out of pocket if the launch date was changed again”.

The letter continued: “The rollout of deposit return in Scotland in March 2024 will require an Internal Market Act exemption which we know is under discussion across Whitehall.

“Such an exemption will protect the substantial investment industry has already made in Scotland and ensure we start to see the environmental benefits as soon as possible.”

The groups said Scotland launching a DRS first could be “actively beneficial for England, Wales and Northern Ireland”, where the initiative is not due to come in until 2025.