The new version of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill (EUWAB) presented to the House of Commons by Boris Johnson's Government on 19th December 2019, following the Conservative Party's General Election success on 12th December 2019, comes up for further review this month with a view to being passed before and as a condition of the UK's intended exit from the EU at 11pm (UK time) on 31st January 2020.
There has been much commentary on the small but significant number of differences between the new version of EUWAB and the earlier one which failed to get through the House of Commons in October 2019.
The differences include :-
- A new clause preventing the UK Government agreeing with the EU a one-off extension to the implementation period beyond 31st December 2020 (this is apparently with a view to concentrating minds on getting a trade deal done prior to that expiry date);
- A new clause enabling UK Government to promote regulations (after consultation) listing specified courts and tribunals (in addition to the Supreme Court and in particular circumstances the High Court of Justiciary already listed in the earlier Bill) which would not be bound by retained EU case law; and
- Deletion of the limited safeguards on workers' rights, incorporated in the earlier Bill (on the basis apparently that any such rights are likely be incorporated in some form in a separate Bill on workers' rights to be promoted by the UK Government).
What will be, will be but with an 80-seat majority for the new Conservative Government in the House of Commons it seems pretty clear what that outcome will be!
It is, nevertheless, important that such an important Bill is closely scrutinised by Parliament and in this context what is noticeable to even a casual observer is the large number of provisions in EUWAB, which give Ministers delegated powers to effect implementing regulations ( including so-called "Henry VIII" powers enabling Ministers to promote regulations amending primary legislation).
The rumbustious battles between Parliament under former Speaker Bercow and the then UK Government in the previous session of Parliament are likely to be behind the apparent wish by the new UK Government to take a more dominant role in the implementation of the Brexit process and its aftermath and Parliamentarians will need to be mindful of the possible need to guard against any consequent erosion of their powers (so far as they can!).
Once Brexit "is done", the focus of public attention will inevitably move from EUWAB and the Withdrawal Agreement to the Political Declaration and the negotiation of a new trade deal between the UK and the EU.
Interesting times ahead!