EU (Withdrawal) Bill Comment

It has been a busy week in parliament with the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill coming back before the house. The Bill was returned to the Commons, allowing for scrutiny of the Lords amendments. I welcome the fact that the Commons has dealt with the Bill, passing the Government amendments with strong and sometimes substantial Government majorities in all divisions. This has sent a clear message to the House of Lords, some of whom sought to frustrate the Brexit process and I hope now that we can get on with doing Brexit properly.

The Bill is designed to cut off the source of European Union law in the UK, repealing the European Communities Act 1972. The Bill then converts EU law and EU-related domestic law into UK law when we leave the EU. There is widespread acceptance that in legislating for Brexit, the regulations to convert non-domestic EU law into UK law will need to be implemented speedily to ensure a smooth and orderly transition as we leave.

The Lords has a revising role to play. However, some of the Lords’ amendments went far beyond that and sought to dictate the negotiating stance of the Government. One amendment focused on the Customs Union and another called for the Government to make the participation in the European Economic Area (EEA) a negotiating objective. These have both been rejected by the Commons. Not only would they undermine the negotiations, it would be constitutionally unprecedented for amendments which allow parliament to instruct government on what steps it should take in international negotiations as this would change the constitutional role of parliament and government in negotiating international treaties.

The fundamental purpose of the Bill is to prepare the UK’s statue book for the day of exit, rather than the terms of exit. Indeed, the bill is intended to deliver continuity of law upon leaving the EU. Which is why I am pleased that the Bill is now in its final stages and we can move on to agreeing the important issues surrounding our exit.

Another key topic raised in the debates this week was that of the meaningful vote, a campaign to ensure parliament gets a final say on the deal. The issue I and other colleagues have with this is that there is already a path laid out which can be taken if the Government comes back with a ‘poor deal’ and that is a vote of no confidence in the Government. So for as long as the Government maintains the confidence of the House, they can negotiate international treaties. But should they fail in negotiations then there is already the mechanism in place which has been used by the House of Commons historically. The meaningful vote amendment would change this constitutional balance and separation of powers between parliament and government. It has also been noted that such an amendment is superfluous since, as Lord Callanan stated when speaking for the Government in the Lords debates, “there is no mechanism by which the Government can give the full final withdrawal agreement domestic legal effect without introducing primary legislation”.

Two thirds of Amber Valley voters, myself included, chose to leave the European Union in the 2016 referendum. That is now two years ago so I am pleased that the Lords amendments were rejected this week and we can soon move onto the important business of discussing the details of our departure from the EU. It is time to stop messing about and make some major decisions on the key issues which we will face in order to do justice to the electorates decision to leave the European Union. Now that the EU (Withdrawal) Bill is in its final stages I hope that will be the case.