THE passage of the UK Internal Market Bill would require Parliament to ask the Queen to violate international law by signing it, six church leaders in Scotland say.
In an open letter to Scottish MPs and peers, published on Tuesday, they express “deep reservations that the United Kingdom Parliament might pass a Bill for Royal Assent that would place Her Majesty the Queen in the difficult position of having to sign legislation which breaks international law”.
The signatories include the Bishop of Edinburgh, Dr John Armes, and the RC Bishop of St Andrews & Edinburgh, the Most Revd Leo Cushley, as well as the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Dr Martin Fair, and Methodist, United Reformed, and Quaker representatives.
The Internal Market Bill sets out new regulations in areas such as food, air quality, and animal welfare, which in future will be decided within the UK rather than by the European Union. If all four nations are expected to accept goods and services from other parts of the UK, even if they have different local standards, fears have been expressed that power will lie mostly with Westminster and undermine local quality controls.
The Internal Market Bill risks undermining the terms of devolution, the letter says. “The passing of this legislation by the United Kingdom Parliament without the consent of the Scottish Parliament clearly strains the devolution settlement. The fracturing of an established relationship is in itself something to be regretted because it is vital that all levels of government work together in the interests of the communities we serve.”
Furthermore, the church leaders say, peace in Northern Ireland could be undermined by the imposition of a “hard border”.
They write: “Some of us have met with church leaders from Ireland, both North and South, who have told us that they fear that the creation of a hard border on the island and between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom puts in peril the delicate peace which has been built on the Good Friday Agreement.
“Since that document was signed Irish Christians have worked together to build better relationships across the communities. Our brothers and sisters are deeply dismayed to think that so much of what has been done to heal the scars of past division will be torn apart by the re-establishing of frontiers. We wish to stand with them in their opposition to these divisive steps.”
The signatories are “deeply disturbed that the United Kingdom Government has even considered the possibility of breaking international law” by making changes to the EU withdrawal agreement. “We concur with the views expressed by the Anglican Primates of the four nations of the United Kingdom and Ireland, including the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, in their letter of 19 October 2020: ‘This has enormous moral, as well as political and legal, consequences. We believe this would create a disastrous precedent.’”
They urge Scottish MPs and peers to voice the concerns that they raise in both Houses of the Westminster Parliament.