The short answer is yes, but at some cost to the already limited scrutiny that takes placeby Joel Blackwell and Ruth Fox / February 8, 2019 / Leave a comment
The cancellation of the mid-February House of Commons recess to provide more time for scrutiny of Brexit legislation has elided uncomfortably with the fact that business in the Chamber has been light in recent days, so much so that the House adjourned mid-afternoon on Wednesday.
But there is more to legislative life than what goes on in the Chamber, and Brexit requires a lot more legislation than bills. Between now and 29th March the wheels of parliamentary scrutiny will have to grind relentlessly if parliament is to pass all the Statutory Instruments (SIs) necessary to prepare the statute book for exit day.
Statutory Instruments are pieces of delegated or secondary legislation used by ministers (and sometimes public bodies) to make changes to the law under powers conferred on them by an Act of Parliament.
The government estimates that it needs up to 600 SIs by 29th March. Yesterday the government laid its 400th Brexit SI since the EU (Withdrawal) Act received Royal Assent last summer. So the government is two-thirds of the way towards its goal.
But with 80 per cent of the parliamentary time to lay the SIs before exit day having elapsed, can the government get up to 200 more SIs onto the statute book before it’s too late?
The answer is yes, but it may be at some cost to the limited scrutiny that already takes place for SIs, particularly in the House of Commons.
The government has been laying an average of just 11 Brexit SIs per week, and has laid 25 or more in a week on just six occasions. In the last week of January it laid 36 Brexit SIs, but 24 of these were laid on the final day of the month. This pattern suggests that it will be a tall order, though certainly not impossible, to lay up to 200, at an average of 29 per week, in each of the remaining seven weeks to exit day.
There is precedent for laying lots of SIs quickly. For example, the government laid 303 SIs in the last month before parliament was dissolved for the 2015 general election; 121 of these were laid in the final week.
However, the majority of these were subject to the “negative scrutiny procedure,” rather than the more demanding “affirmative scrutiny procedure.”