ONE compensation for the coronavirus pandemic was that for three months we didn’t have to talk about Brexit: border controls, migration rules, power grabs and lorry parks at Dover. Unfortunately, the Brexishambles hasn’t gone away.

And this week, the chlorinated chickens have come home to roost. The UK Government will publish legislation on the rules that will govern the UK single market to replace the EU single market, which we leave in six months. This will replicate, in theory, the economic level playing field that used to be overseen by the trade regulators in the European Commission.

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Now, in his time as a Brussels correspondent, Boris Johnson made his name by traducing these regulations. He pilloried Brussels bureaucrats trying to ban British prawn cocktail crisps, adjudicating on condom dimensions or the degree of curvature on cucumbers. This was mostly journalistic invention. However, there was an element of truth in his Bonkers Brussels stories.

To create a single market you have to have common trading and hygiene standards, if only to prevent countries using them as “non-tariff barriers” to free trade. So there is poetic justice in Mr Johnson now finding himself in the position of the maligned eurocrats and trying to dictate the self-same rules for Scotland through the “power grab”.

Perhaps Nicola Sturgeon should dust down some of his riper columns. For Mr Johnson also railed against state aid laws that prevented countries supporting their key industries. Mr Johnson suggested that was just in the interest of German exporters. Now the PM is dictating state aid rules to Scotland – essentially that we shouldn’t have them.

Ms Sturgeon calls this a “full-scale assault” on devolution. Nor is she willing to accept “mutual recognition” of trading and health and safety standards regulations which might expose Scotland to American chlorinated chickens and hormone-fed beef.

Rather like the unbent bananas, the chlorinated chickens are a bit of a myth, and unlikely to appear on British shelves. The UK Government negotiators have made that clear to their US counterparts.

But the Cabinet Office Secretary, Michael Gove, has also made it clear that a new UK internal market regulatory body will call the shots on state aid. It will also alter regulations on food standards and the like without consent from the Scottish Government. So the chemical fowl do perform the political function of reminding people that the Scottish Parliament does at present have, at least in theory, a veto power over things like health, environment, animal welfare. This is because these matters were not included in the powers reserved to Westminster under the 1998 Scotland Act.

Of course, Holyrood only exercised these powers on behalf of Brussels; it did not actually set the trading standards or state aid rules itself. However, it did and does exercise a degree of latitude in applying the standards and allocating state aid.

For example, the Scottish Government was able to funnel more than £3million to Amazon under Selective Regional Assistance and other grants. These are EU-compliant forms of state aid permitted in order to attract companies to unemployment black spots – in this case Dunfermline. Ms Sturgeon might be a little shy of referring to that particular exercise in state aid since it emerged that Amazon was paying less in tax per year than it was receiving in various forms of UK Government subsidies. It was also paying workers rather less than the Scottish Government’s Living Wage.

But the principle is clear: Scotland has a strong case to retain powers over state aid, and not just because of a narrow interpretation of the devolution legislation.

In America, supposedly land of the free market, devolved jurisdictions have state aid policies that would delight Jeremy Corbyn. San Francisco gave tax breaks and subsidies to attract Twitter’s HQ that could never have been allowed in Europe. In Delaware you can set up a business and pay no tax at all.

No one is suggesting that Scotland should become an international tax haven, of course. But it can make a strong case for continuing to have a role in state aid policy, in areas like ferry services to island communities or a public sector bid for rail franchises.

Holyrood is also on firm ground insisting that it retains powers over food standards. Scottish beef producers are understandably worried about imports of cheap meat from non-EU countries. Salmon farmers have been getting stick from environmentalists over standards in their ponds, but things could become immeasurably worse were existing animal welfare and food safety standards to be relaxed.

Of course, this is what “mutual recognition” should mean in practice: flexibility on both sides. It would be very stupid for the UK Government to refuse to recognise diversity in trading standards across the UK. And not just in order to avoid lengthy court actions over the Sewel Convention.

The convention that the Scottish Parliament should pass a consent motion on any UK legislation cutting across its powers was effectively revoked by the UK Supreme Court in 2017. The “spider lady” Lady Hale and fellow judges ruled that the Sewel Convention had no statutory basis and didn’t limit Westminster sovereignty. So there.

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But with an election in May, the UK Government would be ill advised to deny Scotland’s right to exercise residual powers of devolution after we leave the EU. At the very least, Mr Gove should make sure that the nations and regions are properly represented on the new regulatory body.

There should also be co-decision making, and an assurance that any new UK regulations will not debase standards that already exist, or negate polices like the alcohol minimum price or free university tuition.

Further, on the new points-based immigration scheme outlined this week, there is a strong case for Scotland to be allowed to award extra points for certain occupations – like care work – where there is an unavoidable shortage. Mr Gove himself proposed this before the Brexit referendum.

Mind you, Nicola Sturgeon might be wise to tone down criticism of the “racist” policy of Priti Patel. After all, New Zealand has a similar points-based immigration policy, complete with an income threshold. There’s likely to be a lot of Scots out of work in the near future who might resent attempts to bring in cheap labour from abroad.

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