MPs should not have let the Bill pass through the Commons in this parlous state. Now the upper chamber must perform its dutyby Schona Jolly / January 29, 2018 / Leave a comment
One of the consistent difficulties with Brexit is that those who have promised to make it a success waive away the inconvenient detail with which they are required to engage. This government has sought to make an abstract art form of replacing concrete vision with meaningless clichés. Soundbites, however, are no substitute for carefully-considered, well drafted legislation. Post-Brexit, the UK requires legal certainty and a framework that doesn’t tip us over a constitutional and legal cliff-edge.
The EU Withdrawal Bill, a critical piece of constitutional legislation which is aired in the House of Lords tomorrow, threatens to undermine the rule of law, having left the House of Commons in a parlous state. The law must be certain for people to know their rights and obligations, and for judges to be able to apply it. This is a cornerstone of our democracy. Whilst one cannot underestimate the complexities of drafting so crucial and defining a piece of legislation, the debacle surrounding the Bill has come to represent the wider Brexit debate.
Potential problems with the Bill were foreseen even before it was drafted. Fears that it would contain sweeping “Henry VIII powers,” which would lead to a wholesale transfer of power from parliament to the executive, were voiced, alongside anxiety that it would open up a feast of potential deregulation for those in the Brexit camp so inclined. Such a complex piece of legislation required careful thought as to how it would achieve its aim of creating maximum legal certainty. The Bill was published just before the summer break. Serious concerns were raised by lawyers, academics and the House of Lords Constitution Committee, who concluded that the Bill was “highly complex and convoluted in its drafting structure” and that it left “multiple and fundamental constitutional questions unanswered.” In short, the technical detail of this Bill presented serious adverse consequences for our constitutional, legal, social and economic futures.
This was apparent to many MPs, including within the Conservative Party led by the former Attorney General Dominic Grieve, who sought to make amendments to the Bill to remedy its many fundamental failings. Despite the warnings from so many, some limited concessions and even one widely-publicised defeat, the government largely pushed through the Bill without remedying those flaws. It asserted that if MPs were to block the Bill they would be blocking the will of the people to carry out Brexit. This is an absurdity.