MPs should protect democracy. This week they chose not to do soby Sionaidh Douglas-Scott / June 14, 2018 / Leave a comment
Brexit was supposed to be about taking back control, empowering the Westminster parliament. So how then should we judge our elected representatives’ performance in scrutinising the domestic legislation that prepares the UK for Brexit, and most particularly MPs’ recent rejection of the House of Lords’ amendments to that legislation?
The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (EUWB), to give it its full name, is the flagship Brexit legislation introduced to parliament on 13th July 2017. The Bill will repeal the European Communities Act 1972 and thus European Union institutions will no longer be able to make laws directly affecting the UK. The majority of existing EU law will be converted into domestic UK law post-Brexit. Notably, the Bill also provides government ministers with considerable delegated powers to make secondary legislation considered appropriate for leaving the EU.
The Bill passed through the House of Commons last year relatively unscathed, with only one amendment carried against the government. Not so in the Lords, where, altogether, the government was defeated on 15 substantial amendments. This week, on 12th and 13th June, the Bill returned to the Commons, where in two six-hour sessions, MPs considered these Lords amendments.
Given the emotive atmosphere surrounding both Brexit and the EUWB (Anna Soubry MP revealed in debate that a Remainer colleague had received such serious death threats that they needed six armed undercover police to attend a public meeting) it is worth stressing that the purpose of the EUWB is not (in contrast to negotiations currently ongoing in Brussels) to decide the terms of Brexit, but to ensure it can be carried out smoothly and that legal continuity and certainty, essential for all, is maintained. The EUWB is one of the most important pieces of legislation for over 100 years, and should be taken seriously by all, including MPs, who have a duty to scrutinise its provisions carefully. Taking time to examine this legislation properly is not blocking or hampering Brexit. Leaving the EU is an immense undertaking—without special provision there will be huge gaps in UK law. If it is not thought through carefully, there will be also be damage to the economy, society and security, not to mention freedom and democracy.