The EU Withdrawal Bill: 6 things you need to know

Report Stage for the Withdrawal Bill starts is on the 16 and 17 January. These are the last days the bill will be scrutinised by MPs before it goes to the House of Lords.

1. The Government has made some concessions

The Government has put forward some it’s own changes to the bill. Although these are technical, others are in key areas where we’ve been campaigning for change - like putting restrictions on some of the sweeping Henry VIII powers in the bill.

2. But we don’t think those go far enough

As always, the devil is in the detail. We’re still worried that the vagueness of the amendments means the Government will still be able to make sweeping changes to our rights and regulations without Parliament having a say.

Other concessions made by the Government don’t go far enough in many instances. For example, the “rights-by-rights” analysis on where EU Charter of Fundamental Rights can be found in UK law has been described by a human rights and equalities lawyer as failing to tackle “the legal reality that abandoning the charter indeed does remove rights that UK citizens currently enjoy and adds to the complexity, confusion and uncertainty surrounding the basis to protect and enforce substantive rights post-Brexit”. 

The legal opinion obtained from Alliance member EHRC (Equality and Human Rights Commission) is that rights and protections will be weakened as result of excluding the Charter in the bill. The legal opinion commissioned by EHRC’s is also that the “rights-by-rights” analysis provided by the Government is largely inadequate.

The Government also delayed its own promise to amend areas in the bill concerning devolution. It’s now likely that protections for the devolved nations - if any - will only be brought forward in the House of Lords.

3. In particular, the concession on the procedure committee isn’t good enough

The Government accepted the amendments tabled by Charles Walker (Conservative MP and chair of Procedure Committee), which will set up a new committee to deal with which pieces of delegated legislation need detailed scrutiny by MPs as EU law is transferred to UK law. However, as we have previously pointed out- the new committee does little to address the existing, inadequate system of scrutinising statutory instruments.

As the new committee is only advisory, the government doesn’t have to follow through on its recommendations. Nor does the amendments seek to go beyond the temporary measure restricted only to the Withdrawal Bill- which ultimately prompts questions about how delegated legislation in the seven other Brexit bills will be scrutinised. That the Government has chosen a cop-out solution- suggest all the more reason the keep the pressure up when it comes to proper scrutiny of delegated legislation.

4. Report stage is the final chance for the Government to follow through on promises, and MPs to hold them to account

Report stage (taking place on 16th and 17th January) is the final chance for MPs to make the changes the bill sorely needs and the Government have the opportunity to prove they will make on those promises made during Committee stage.

5. After Third reading in the Commons, it’s onto the Lords, where we expect peers to put up a fight

The bill is likely to reach the Lord at the end of January, where it is expected that peers will put up a fight. Many peers have voiced concerns about the bill already and expressed that they will not accept being bullied by the ‘strong-arm tactics’ of Tory whips when it comes to voting on Brexit-related issues.

6. Everything is still left to play for

There is massive room for improvement when it comes to the Withdrawal Bill. We still need to limit the unchecked power the government wants to hand itself, make sure rights and regulations are ‘copied and pasted’ as promised not changed behind closed doors, and the devolutions settlements are protected.

 We’ll continue working tirelessly to convince MPs that granting ministers astonishingly wide powers and undermining our rights is not what Britain post Brexit should look like.

Malene Bratlie