THE Westminster Government has been accused of showing “contempt” for Holyrood after refusing to give evidence to MSPs about its hugely controversial Internal Market bill.
Committee convener Bruce Crawford said he was “genuinely dismayed” by the “discourtesy”.
He also it was “implausible” that another UK minister was available to give evidence on a different Bill with a relatively limited impact on devolution, but Mr Sharma would not discuss one with a “potentially huge impact” on Scotland.
The Internal Market Bill is designed to harmonise and prevent barriers within the UK internal market after Brexit and make it easier to strike trade deals with other countries.
The UK Government says the repatriation of powers from Brussels involved will be the biggest gain for Holyrood since devolution.
However the SNP and other parties have described it as a power grab which would trample on Holyrood’s decision-making, and impose English standards on foods and goods in the rest of the UK, regardless of the views of the devolved administrations.
The Bill is also at the centre of a ferocious row at Westminster after the UK Government admitted it would break international law by enabling the rewriting the Withdrawal Agreement signed by the UK and EU in respect of Northern Ireland.
It has been condemned by five former Prime Ministers and a series of former Tory leaders.
With the Bill having a profound effect on devolution, MSPs will be asked to give it their legislative consent, but have already indicated they will refuse.
The finance and constitution committee had asked Mr Sharma to give evidence to them, but in a brief email to the committee clerk yesterday, he refused.
His office said: “Apologies for the delay and thank you for your invitation for the SoS [Secretary of State] to give evidence to the committee.
“Given the tight legislative timeline for the Bill, it is with regret that the SoS will be unable to attend this committee session.
“We look forward to the findings of the Committee’s engagement on the UK internal market Bill.”
Mr Crawford said: “The UK Internal Market Bill will affect many people’s lives and livelihoods in Scotland. It will also have a profound impact on the devolution settlement and on the powers of the Scottish Parliament.
“The UK Government already recognises and accepts that all aspects of this Bill require the legislative consent of the Scottish Parliament.
“I am genuinely dismayed, therefore, that the Secretary of State for Business will not make time to give evidence to our committee, as we consider whether or not to recommend that consent be given to this UK Bill.
“Our report to the Scottish Parliament will not have the benefit of direct evidence from the UK Government and that is a matter of regret, as is the discourtesy that colleagues will infer from the UK Government’s response.”
Referring to other evidence from UK Trade minister Greg Hands, he added: “Under my convenership, this committee has always set out to engage constructively with the UK Government. Indeed, we will hear from Mr Hands on the Trade Bill next week.
“It is implausible why a UK Minister is available for the relatively limited impact on devolution of that Bill, while not being available for the Internal Market Bill which has a potentially huge impact on the people of Scotland.”
Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie said: The UK Government is showing contempt for international law, for the Northern Ireland peace process, for the Scottish and Welsh parliaments, and is even trashing the UK’s own reputation for keeping its word.
“Now they are also refusing even the most cursory democratic scrutiny in Parliament at the same time as seizing the power to over-rule Scots law and the decisions of the Scottish courts.
“It’s hard to see how they could make this calculated assault against Scotland’s democracy any more insulting than they already have.”