Johnson’s government has altered this vital piece of Brexit legislationby Maddy Thimont Jack / December 23, 2019 / Leave a comment
2019 was dominated by a battle between the government and parliament over whether, and when, and how, the UK was going to leave the EU. The numbers in parliament forced Theresa May to compromise—trying to appease her own backbenchers, the DUP and some Labour MPs. Her strategy ultimately failed. But Boris Johnson’s election result means that 2020 will look very different. This is encapsulated in the changes he made to the latest version of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill—the domestic legislation needed to implement the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU and allow the government to ratify the treaty.
While Johnson succeeded in passing the second reading of his Withdrawal Agreement Bill on 22nd October, he had to make a number of concessions to gather enough support, particularly from Labour MPs. With a working majority of 87 (and 109 new Conservative MPs) he no longer needs to get Labour waverers on board.
As a consequence, the government has removed the provisions relating to workers’ rights. Although the original provisions were very limited (not actually preventing the government from acting in any way, since parliament can always repeal or amend earlier legislation), they were designed to persuade Labour MPs from Leave-voting constituencies that the government was not planning to water down these protections in UK law. Johnson believes this is no longer necessary.
The government has also amended another important piece of Brexit legislation, the EU Withdrawal Act 2018, to water down the obligation to pursue an agreement on unaccompanied children seeking asylum to unite with family members. With a majority, Johnson has been able to erase some of the concessions May was forced to make when passing that legislation.
The government has also made a lot of noise on extension to the transition period, including a potential commitment to rule out extension beyond December 2020 in UK law. The language around “agreement” rather than “request” means that even if the EU were to ask for an extension, UK law would require the government to say no. But this is mainly domestic posturing. The government could always repeal this provision if necessary. And even if a number of its own backbenchers opposed the move, the government could…