The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill will never get through parliament by 29th Marchby Paul Daly / February 6, 2019 / Leave a comment
A no-deal Brexit is more likely than you think, because of a piece of legislation which you’ve probably never heard of and which you’ve almost certainly not seen. In hushed tones in Westminster, Whitehall, think tank corridors and university seminar rooms, it is called the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill—the “WAB.” If it is not passed by the House of Commons and the House of Lords and given Royal Assent by the Queen, Britain cannot leave the European Union with a deal, on 29th March, or at any point. And regardless of what happens next month, the fact that the WAB has not yet been published is a democratic and constitutional outrage.
For all the talk on rolling 24-hour news channels, live blogs and social media about the meaningful vote on the prime minister’s deal with the EU, securing a House of Commons majority for the Withdrawal Agreement painstakingly negotiated with Michel Barnier and his team is only half the battle for the government. Those hard Brexiteers who are comfortable with a no-deal Brexit have an additional means of securing their objective.
Hiding in plain sight in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 are two conditions which must be satisfied before the government can ratify the Withdrawal Agreement and leave the EU with a deal: first, the meaningful vote; second, legislation to implement the Withdrawal Agreement.
Let that sink in for a moment. Even if the House of Commons approves the Withdrawal Agreement, Britain still cannot leave on 29th March (or at any time) without passing the implementing legislation. For Britain to leave with a deal, the WAB must leave the dusty desk drawer in which it is languishing and be scrutinised and passed by both Houses of Parliament.
This is, to say the least, unlikely to happen soon. The WAB is legislation of the highest political, legal and constitutional significance. It will provide for the payment of the “divorce bill” negotiated with the EU. It will also provide for the continuing supremacy of EU law over UK law during the transition period (which will run into the early part of the next decade). Given the absence of consensus amongst lawyers and politicians on how this can be maintained, there will have to be debate and discussion about how the WAB can achieve what it…