The government stalls but it cannot avoid parliament foreverby Maddy Thimont Jack / May 14, 2018 / Leave a comment
The government’s Brexit legislative timetable—already ambitious—is becoming increasingly compressed. This raises serious questions about whether the UK’s statute book will be ready for exit in March 2019.
The decision to leave the European Union means that the UK will take over responsibility for setting policy which was previously set by the EU, for example on agriculture, trade and customs. This will require new legislation to establish post-Brexit policy frameworks—and Brexit bills dominated the Queen’s Speech. Since the eight announced last year, a further four have been added.
But introducing more bills has not meant more progress. No bill has yet become a Brexit Act. Six are yet to be introduced, and we are still waiting for (very) long-promised white papers on Migration and Fisheries. Two—the Customs and Trade bills—have been missing in action since committee stage in the House of Commons in January. The government has not yet told us when the Commons might have another chance to look at the EU Withdrawal Bill, after a number of significant changes were made in the Lords.
The overwhelming impression is that the government is managing legislation not to ensure the statute book is updated in a timely and orderly way for Brexit, but to avoid embarrassing defeats in the Commons: in particular, to avoid giving a possible Commons majority on creating a customs union—the subject of amendments to both the Trade and Customs Bills—a chance to mobilise. But beyond giving the impression that the government is doing its best to duck difficult arguments in parliament, does a delay to the Brexit legislative timetable really matter?
The provision for a “standstill transition”—where the UK will have left the EU but will continue to follow EU rules—in the current draft of the Withdrawal Agreement would offer some breathing room for the government because new powers would not be necessary until after December 2020.
In this scenario, the only bill which would need to receive royal assent by March 2019 would be the legislation the government has promised to put the Withdrawal Treaty into domestic law—the Withdrawal Agreement and Implementation Bill (WAIB). This bill will be introduced after parliament has voted on an initial motion as to whether they want to reject or approve the withdrawal agreement and the framework for the future relationship. If the government chooses to delay the EU Withdrawal Bill—a separate bill which is currently…