SCOTLAND’S top civil servant has accused the UK Government of repeatedly breaking a key convention of the devolution era.

Permanent Secretary John-Paul Marks, the head of the civil service in Scotland, told MPs on Tuesday ministers had flouted the Sewel convention which dictates that Westminster does not legislate in devolved matters without the consent of the Scottish Government “on a number of occasions” in recent years.

And he said the controversial Internal Market Act – the devolution-busting legislation which helped scupper the deposit return scheme – had changed the nature of devolution.

Speaking to Westminster’s Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, Marks said that while there were instances of Scotland’s two governments working well together, this came amid a “disrupted and quite regularly contested environment”.

He said the Internal Market Act – which effectively gives the UK Government a veto over some Scottish laws – had created a “different operating environment to devolution compared to what went before”.

Marks added: “You see that evidence in the Sewel convention and legislative consent. So up to 2018, the Sewel convention – whereby the UK Government would not legislate without consent from devolved governments in devolved areas – was always observed and there were no circumstances where that consent was not granted, where the UK Government would legislate without consent.

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“But since 2018 there has been 11 occasions where that convention has not been followed. And so to an extent that reflects the changing nature of the political contexts post-Brexit.”

He called for both governments to pursue “early engagement” with one another “so ultimately we can both respect the devolution settlement but also support interoperability in the UK where it’s necessary to do so”.

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Elsewhere Marks noted that an inter-ministerial group intended to connect the First Minister and the Prime Minister had met only once in two years instead of annually.

But Marks – who moved to the Scottish Government after a series of senior roles in the UK Government, including overseeing the creation of Universal Credit at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – was accused of treating the committee appearance “as a job interview”.

The Permanent Secretary twice praised Michael Gove for his “deep understanding of devolution”.

He also said the Levelling Up Secretary had played a “pivotal role” in fostering good relations between the two governments.

Marks also made the case for civil servants having experience of working across the four nations of the UK, saying how many senior members of team had previously worked at UK Government departments such as the Home Office or DWP.

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The Alba Party’s general secretary Chris McEleny said Marks was a “high flyer and very capable member of the UK civil service”.

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But he added: “It was always an odd appointment as how was someone that sees themselves as a future permanent secretary in one of the ‘great offices of state’ ever going to be the person to lead a Scottish civil service towards independence?

“The career progression that Mr Marks desires depends on Scotland never becoming an independent country. Why that was never a concern to the last first minister, and why it’s not a concern to the current First Minister is beyond me.

“It seems that today’s appearance was treated by the Permanent Secretary as a job interview.”

A UK Government spokesperson said: “We want to work constructively with the Scottish Government in the best interests of people in Scotland, as we have done in many areas such as freeports and city deals.

“The devolution settlement is clear about the balance of powers and responsibilities that the UK and Scottish governments must respect, and which we continue to uphold.”