LORNA Slater has denied not formally requesting an exemption from UK-wide laws for Scotland's deposit return scheme until last month as she blamed Conservative ministers for delays to the initiative.

The minister for the circular economy said it was "categorically not true" that a formal request for the measure was only first made on March 6 this year, as the UK Government has said.

Her comments in an interview this morning come as the Scottish Government seek to shift responsibility for uncertainty over the controversial scheme onto ministers in London.

Its launch was delayed earlier this week from August to March next year, and major changes have been announced including new exemptions for small containers and products with low sales. The latter measure will mean that some 44 per cent of producers, including craft beer breweries, will not have to take part.

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In a statement to Holyrood yesterday unveiling the changes Ms Slater said the delay was primarily due to the UK Government not providing an exemption to the Internal Market Act (IMA), which was implemented after Brexit to regulate trade within the UK.

But the deposit return scheme (DRS), which will introduce a 20p deposit on the price of drinks in cans and bottles which is repaid to the consumer when they are returned to a retailer, had previously come under fire from business groups. Some 500 firms wrote to the Scottish Government in November last year raising concerns.

Ms Slater told MSPs yesterday she will write again to the UK Government with the IMA exemption request, which she said she believes will be granted. The Scottish Government previously said former deputy first minister John Swinney had made the original request.

But following Ms Slater's Holyrood statement, the UK Government said a formal request for IMA exclusion was only received "on March 6, 2023".

A spokesperson added: "It has not been possible for us to fully assess the impacts of the exclusion request on cross-UK trade, business and consumers."

Speaking to BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland (GMS) programme on this morning, Ms Slater, a Scottish Greens co-leader, said her government has been working towards an exclusion since 2021.

She said: "One of the features of the Internal Market Act that we now have in the UK is that bills such as our deposit return scheme actually need an exclusion from the internal market to be able to come into force.

"So even though our deposit return scheme legislation was passed before the Internal Market Act, the UK Government have given themselves this sort of veto over the process. Now, we've been working with the UK Government to get them to issue this exclusion since 2021.

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"But unfortunately, even with just a few weeks ago to launch in August, they still had not issued this exclusion. So unfortunately, very unfortunately, they forced our hand [so] we've had to push back the launch date for this scheme."

She was pressed that the UK Government say she didn't formally ask for an exemption until March 6.

She replied: "That is categorically not true...The process for establishing the exclusion has been followed at all points and completed.

"We provide all the information in a timely manner. This is entirely political game playing by Alister Jack. It is not remotely part of how the frameworks, or how the two governments work together are supposed to work, and it's not how devolution is supposed to work."

The scheme will now be overhauled with containers under 100ml exempt - effectively removing all miniature bottles of alcohol - as well as further exemptions for producers who sell less than 5,000 units per year.

Larger producers who have smaller product lines which also sell less than that threshold, the minister said, would not be required to put a deposit on the product.

The UK Government is also to bring in a separate similar bottle return scheme, which unlike the Scottish scheme, will exclude glass. Some businesses want the Scottish Government to hold off on a separate initiative and instead join the UK one.

A UK Government source said on Friday: "Lorna Slater is only embarrassing herself further by making these laughable claims. This is a mess entirely of her own making."

Scottish Conservative shadow minister for business, trade, tourism and enterprise Jamie Halcro Johnston said: “This shambolic interview was another shameless and desperate attempt by Lorna Slater to shift the blame on to the UK Government for her own shocking inadequacies.

“The reality is she has been humiliated and undermined by Humza Yousaf’s decision to accept reality – namely, that her flawed deposit return scheme is not remotely ready to go on her August timetable.

“For months she stuck her fingers in her ears while businesses voiced cataclysmic fears about the effect of the scheme on them.

"She refused to engage with them, dismissed their concerns and ploughed on regardless. To then try to pin the blame for the delay announced this week by the First Minister on the UK Government – when the formal request for an exemption from the Internal Market Act was only submitted last month – displays a pathetic lack of personal accountability.

“This interview just underlined how inept and out of her depth Lorna Slater is in a ministerial role.”