The legislation to implement the PM’s Brexit deal cannot just be nodded throughby Jill Rutter / October 22, 2019 / Leave a comment
The Withdrawal Agreement Bill is a serious piece of complicated legislation. Parliament should treat it as such.
The government has only been able to produce the bill at such short notice because most of the Johnson deal agreed with the EU last week is lifted straight from the deal that Theresa May signed off almost a year ago. But May’s secretive government, and Johnson’s sceptical government, never gave MPs any chance to have a look at how they proposed to turn treaty commitments into UK law. That is what the bill is meant to do—and it is a very hard read.
The first thing the bill does is turn off the provisions in the EU withdrawal act for the duration of the “implementation period.” So back come provisions to enable the UK to keep pace with EU law; back comes the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
The bill also has to take powers to allow ministers to make the financial settlement; put into effect the guarantees for citizens’ rights—and set up the so-called Independent Monitoring Authority, designed to oversee how the UK implements those rights; and make the necessary provisions to implement the Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol.
It makes a lot of references to the new and powerful “joint Committee,” where the UK will end up agreeing much of how to make the new agreement work once we are in the implementation period, but tells us nothing about how it is constituted—beyond that a minister will be the UK co-chair. And it makes provision for this treaty to have supremacy over UK law—though as a sop to Eurosceptics being forced to “suck it up” there is a meaningless clause about parliamentary sovereignty.
In many areas the detail is missing—and ministers are seeking extensive powers to enable them to fill in the gaps through secondary legislation.
But the bill isn’t just confined to the provisions of the withdrawal agreement itself: it also has a few nods at other parliamentary concerns. It has provisions on workers’ rights—though these do no more than oblige a minister to inform the House if the government is “regressing” from EU standards. It’s hard to imagine that gives much comfort to those concerned that a gung-ho deregulatory government might try to rip them up.