The procedural challenge of leaving the EU will be immenseby Anand Menon / November 7, 2016 / Leave a comment
Brexit means Brexit, which is ambiguous enough in a substantive sense. And, caught up in the debate about what a UK exit from the European Union might look like, few people have bothered to spend time considering what its procedural implications might be. Yet these will be considerable, and have the potential to challenge, if not fundamentally reshape, the basic building blocks of the British state.
Parliament is very much in the spotlight following the recent High Court ruling. It will, at a minimum, have to approve a Bill to allow the triggering of Article 50. Yet I remain sceptical as to how much real influence this will translate into. It is hard to see the House of Commons attempting to prevent Brexit. Equally, however, it is not obvious how it might aspire to shape its nature.
Certainly, parliamentarians want to do just that. Apart from insisting on regular reports back from the negotiations, it seems likely that MPs will also expect a vote on whatever deal is finally agreed. Yet the nature of the Article 50 timetable means that this will confront them with a choice between whatever deal the Prime Minister secures and no deal at all. Hardly a recipe for a parliament-inspired Brexit deal.
Far more of a challenge for the House will be not shaping Brexit but managing it. The Great Repeal Bill—the oxymoronic title given to the act of incorporating all EU law into national law—will require a level of legislative activity that the House of Commons is simply incapable of. While Select Committees squabble over who gets to do which Brexit report, surely more thought should be given to the respective weight of primary and secondary legislation in this process? Too much of the former, and parliament sinks under the weight. An excessive reliance on the latter implies a lack of proper scrutiny and a danger of badly drafted law.
While parliament struggles with such issues, the civil service faces enormous challenges of its own. As if the creation and staffing of two new Ministries—for Exiting the EU and for International Trade—were not enough, the former is tasked with perhaps the most challenging task the British bureaucracy…