Brexit Bill is an attack on devolution settlements, warns Alliance of 80+ organisations from across the UK

  • Press release by the Repeal Bill Alliance, embargoed until 00:01 Sunday 3 December

  • For extended comment or for more information about the alliance, please contact the Alliance's coordinator, Jane Thomas, at jane.thomas@repealbill.org or 07957 240826.

An Alliance of over 80 civil society organisations from across the UK has warned that if MPs don’t amend the EU (Withdrawal) Bill they risk undermining hard-won devolution settlements and the Good Friday Agreement.

The bill will see it’s fourth and fifth day of Committee Stage debate on the 4th and 6th December. As currently drafted, the bill restricts devolved administrations from creating new agricultural, fisheries and regional policies - a striking move away from the current conferred powers model of devolution that was agreed by respective referendums. Instead, the devolved powers in these areas would be frozen until the UK government decides whether to “unfreeze” any of them. Consequently, all powers currently exercised at an EU level will flow back to Westminster [1].

The government has attempted to provide assurances this is only a temporary measure [2]. However, the lack of a sunset clause on powers being centrally held by Westminster should raise alarm bells. The desirability of establishing common UK frameworks does not justify the current approach the bill takes, explains the Repeal Bill Alliance.  

The bill has incited strong opposition from Welsh and Scottish Ministers, who have called the bill a “naked power grab” [3]. As drafted, the Withdrawal Bill gives UK ministers significant leeway to interpret their delegated powers, and rewrite devolution acts that were endorsed by referendums.

There is also widespread concern that the Withdrawal Bill contains no formal recognition or protection of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement (BFGA) [4] despite the government confirming that its complete implementation is a priority when the UK exit the EU, and providing reassurances of “steadfast support for the Belfast Agreement and its successors”  in the Confidence and Supply Agreement with the DUP [5].

Concerns in Northern Ireland are not just about a hard or soft Brexit but also a hard or soft border. Conservative MEP Charles Tannock suggested there should be a referendum in Northern Ireland in which voters could decide if they want to stay in the EU's single market and customs union.

The Alliance urges the Government to answer how the same standards and rights will be maintained across the isle of Ireland, in line with its duties and obligations in the Good Friday Agreement.

Jane Thomas, coordinator of the Repeal Bill Alliance said:

“By returning all EU power to Westminster against the wishes of Scotland and Wales, the EU (Withdrawal) Bill  is an attack on the principles of devolution.

“As we go towards this important debate the swirl of politics continues. The most recent development is the DUP threatening to renege on their confidence and supply agreement if Northern Ireland is treated differently from the rest of the UK on trade.


“The devil continues to be in the detail with this Bill and it is increasingly important that parliamentarians continue to engage, debate and scrutinise it meaningfully"

ENDS

Notes to Editors

[1]https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/blog/eu-withdrawal-bill-has-serious-implications-devolution?utm_content=buffer7f859&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

[2] House of Commons Library Briefing Paper- The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill: Devolution:

“The UK Government’s position is that the Bill retains the existing restrictions on devolved competence, it continues the existing scope for local implementation, and it allows the restrictions to be lifted in the event either that an agreement is reached that the common framework of EU law is not needed, or that an alternative UK framework is to be

Established. It is “intended to be a transitional arrangement while decisions are taken on where common policy approaches are or are not needed” (p.13).

[3]http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-great-repeal-bill-scotland-wales-carwyn-jones-nicola-sturgeon-theresa-may-legislative-consent-a7839706.html#

[4] Human Rights Consortium: EU Withdrawal- General Points of concern in advance of 2nd Reading:

“The Bill gives no formal recognition or protection to the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement or any assurances that its full implementation and enjoyment is a priority as the UK exits the EU. This is concerning in a democracy founded upon the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and with political institutions that are delicately balanced and maintained through adherence and compliance with scrutiny and oversight mechanisms such as those provided by the EU”.   

[5] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/conservative-and-dup-agreement-and-uk-government-financial-support-for-northern-ireland/agreement-between-the-conservative-and-unionist-party-and-the-democratic-unionist-party-on-support-for-the-government-in-parliament

About the Alliance

The Repeal Bill Alliance was formed in August 2017 comprising over 80 organisations and representing UK-wide organisations as well as those in the devolved nations and regions of the UK. It is calling on MPs to amend the bill to ensure clear limits and safeguards on the powers given to UK ministers, along with open and accountable lawmaking in the transposition process; and to maintain a high standards UK.

For more information visit the Alliance’s website: https://repealbill.org/

Twitter: @fixrepealbill

Contact: Jane Thomas, Alliance’s Coordinator - jane@repealbill.org or 07957 240826



 

Malene Bratlie