MICHAEL Gove is due to be quizzed by MSPs today about the UK Government’s post-Brexit trade Bill, amid a deepening constitutional row over its impact on devolution.

The Cabinet office minister will give evidence to Holyrood’s finance committee on the controversial UK Internal Market Bill this afternoon.

His appearance comes just a day after the Scottish Government urged MSPs to reject the Bill in what it called a “defining moment” for the Union.

SNP ministers said the Bill should be refused legislative consent as it was “fundamentally incompatible with the principles and practices of devolution”.

By breaching international law, the Bill would also be incompatible with the responsibility of Scottish ministers under the ministerial code, they said.

The Bill is designed to harmonise trade across the UK after the end of the Brexit transition period this year, and make it easier of the UK to strike trade deals with other countries.

The UK Government has said it will see a huge repatriation of powers exercised by Brussels to Holyrood.

However, critics say it is a “power grab” which tramples the decision-making powers of the devolved administrations, forcing them to mirror whatever rules and standards England adopts, including on food standards.

The Bill has also generated huge controversy by proposing to empower UK ministers to overwrite parts of the Withdrawal Agreement treaty signed by the EU and UK.

This would, the UK Government admits, break international law in a “very specific and limited way”, in regard to Northern Ireland.

The prospect of breaking international law saw Boris Johnson’s top legal expert, Lord Keen, resign as Advocate General for Scotland.

Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden and House speaker Nancy Pelosi have also warned the US Congress would refuse to sign off a UK-US trade deal because of the Bill.

Mr Gove, who yesterday met European Commission vice-president Maroš Šefovičahead of EU-UK trade talks resuming today, insisted the contentious elements would stay.

He said: “There are those in European Union who have been concerned about clauses in Internal Market Bill, but I was able to stress today these clauses are a safety net.

“We want to reach agreement in the joint committee, we want to make sure the position of Northern Ireland is secure in UK, we want to make sure the withdrawal agreement is implemented in full. But those clauses are there, they are in legislation, supported by the House of Commons... and those clauses will remain in that Bill.”

Because the Bill involves devolved powers, it has triggered the Sewel Convention, which says the UK Government will not “normally” legislate in devolved Scottish matters without Holyrood’s explicit consent.

The Scottish Government laid a legislative consent memorandum at Holyrood strongly recommending MSPs should withhold that consent.

It warned the Bill: 
l undermines both the devolution settlement and agreed ways of working across the UK following EU exit.
l risks more uncertainty and confusion for business and consumers.
l encourages harmful deregulation without democratic accountability or proper Parliamentary scrutiny.
l explicitly gives UK Ministers wide new powers in currently devolved areas of economic support and allows for breaches of international law.

With a majority of MSPs already opposed to the Bill’s current provisions, it tees up a formal vote at Holyrood, which the UK Government will almost certainly disregard, and pass the Bill through Westminster without consent.

SNP Constitution Secretary Michael Russell said: “This is a defining moment that will determine both the future of the Scottish Parliament and whether or not the UK can be described as a partnership of equal nations.

“UK Government ministers have accepted the Bill will break international law. It would be equally outrageous if they decided also to break the constitutional convention that the Westminster Parliament does not legislate in devolved areas without the consent of the Scottish Parliament.

“The UK’s established constitutional rules mean that the consent of the Scottish Parliament is required for the UK Government’s Internal Market Bill to proceed. If the Parliament refuses to grant consent then that should kill the Bill stone dead. It will demonstrate beyond all doubt that the UK Government does not believe the UK to be a partnership of equals.

“This Bill opens the door to a post-Brexit race to the bottom and will mean democratic decisions of the Scottish Parliament on public health, environmental standards, food standards and a range of other key areas can be over-ridden.

“The Scottish Government will ask the Parliament to make a decision on whether to grant consent next month and the memorandum we have published today sets out in detail why we could never recommend the Parliament agrees that its powers should be eroded so fundamentally.”

The Welsh and Northern Ireland administrations are also expected to object to the Bill as it it is written.

A UK government spokesman said: “The recommendation from the devolved administration in Scotland is disappointing.

‘This Bill will protect Scottish businesses and jobs by ensuring trade can continue between different parts of the UK. More than 60 per cent of Scottish exports go to England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“It is also a hugely significant act of devolution as when the transition period ends, vast powers will return from Brussels back to Holyrood.

“We urge the Scottish Parliament to support this vital Bill.”

At the Liberal Democrats’ virtual autumn conference, Irish premier Micheal Martin said the UK Internal Market Bill has “eroded trust” between Ireland and the UK.

Speaking at the Liberal Democrats’ conference, Mr Martin said: “The Internal Market Bill has eroded trust. It has damaged, you know, the credibility of agreements that have been entered into namely the Withdrawal Agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol.”

But he said that the Irish Government was “very keen” to ensure that ultimately there would be a “sensible agreement” made between Britain and the European Union that “allows for free trade without quotas and tariffs that can create a foundation for a sensible and harmonious relationship between EU and the UK into the future”.

European council president Charles Michel yesterday said “the British face a dilemma” over whether to leave behind EU standards after the transition period ended.

The former Belgian PM said: “What model of society do they want? “Do they prefer to maintain high quality standards – health, food, environmental – or, on the contrary, do they want lower standards, [to] subject their farmers and their competitors to unfair and unjust competition from other regions of the world? It is the answer to this question that will determine the level of access to our internal market.”