Open letter to Rt Hon Stephen Barclay MP : The Withdrawal Agreement Bill and the importance of proper legislative scrutiny


Today, we have written to Rt Hon Stephen Barclay MP asking the Department of Exiting the European Union to publish the Withdrawal Agreement Bill in draft as soon as possible. 

This is the piece of legislation that will implement the Withdrawal Agreement in domestic. Were Parliament to approve the Brexit deal, the government has to get this Bill through Parliament in order to ratify the agreement.

The Withdrawal Agreement Bill will have massive constitutional, political and legal implications- it is astonishing that it has not even but published yet.

Regardless of the outcome of the next stages in the process of withdrawing from the European Union, we believe the government needs to publish the Bill in draft as soon as possible for the purposes of proper parliamentary scrutiny.

Please find below our letter to Rt Hon Stephen Barclay MP adressing our concerns about the absence of the Bill and why the government should publish it in draft as soon as possible. Here is also our briefing to MPs, highlighting a number of issues likely to arise in the Bill.

Rt Hon Stephen Barclay MP                                                                       14 March 2019

Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

9 Downing Street

London

SW1A 2AS

United Kingdom

CC: The Chair of the Exiting the European Union Committee, the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, the Chair of the Constitution Committee, the Chair of the EU Justice Sub-Committee

Dear Minister,

Re: The Withdrawal Agreement Bill and the importance of proper legislative scrutiny

We are writing to express our concern about the absence of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill and the lack of time left for Parliament to scrutinise this piece of legislation, which will have significant constitutional, legal and political implications. The government has not set out a time frame in which this legislative process ought to take place. Doing so is crucial because, as required under section 13 (1) (d) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, the Withdrawal Agreement Bill has to complete its parliamentary passage before the government may ratify the Withdrawal Agreement.

Presuming exit day as set out in the European Union Withdrawal Act 2018 remains 29th March 2019, Parliament will have less than 11 sitting days to scrutinise a piece of legislation that will be of utmost importance constitutionally and politically. Or if there is a short extension to Article 50, the government should still publish the Bill in draft now, giving Parliament as much time as possible to scrutinise it.

The government has so far justified not publishing the Withdrawal Agreement Bill on the basis that there are still issues left to resolve, both with the EU and with the UK Parliament. However, this does not apply to parts of the deal where there is already an agreement in principle across Parliament and with the EU, for instance, on Part Two of the Agreement on citizens’ rights. It is therefore hard to understand why the government cannot publish these provisions in draft now.

Despite the Department for Exiting the European Union’s publication of a White Paper on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, there are a number of questions about the Bill that we believe need to be clarified. For instance, Article 4 the Withdrawal Agreement makes certain commitments in regards to the constitutional effect of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill once enacted. The government has said that to repeal provisions in the Withdrawal Agreement, future parliaments will have to take ‘an additional procedural step’. Since the publication of the White Paper in July, there have been no further details about how this step may look like. Whatever the ‘additional procedural step’ the government plan to introduce, it will likely attract fierce debate in Parliament. More importantly, parliamentarians and civil society will need time to assess its constitutional implications.  

There are also questions surrounding how citizens’ rights will be entrenched and protected. Further issues also need clarification, such as how the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland will be implemented in domestic law; whether the courts will disapply domestic legislation incompatible with the Withdrawal Agreement; and whether the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights will be transposed to domestic law for the purposes for commitments set out in the Protocol and Part Two of the Agreement.

Our concern is that parliamentarians, civil society and business will not have sufficient time to carry out effective scrutiny nor have any meaningful input in the legislative process if the Withdrawal Agreement Bill is rushed through Parliament.

We remain concerned that the government will fast-track the Withdrawal Agreement Bill through Parliament, using the argument that Parliament has already debated and agreed to the Withdrawal Agreement in principle, and so there is no need to seek further amendments or clarifications to the Withdrawal Agreement Bill. This is simply not the case, as highlighted with the numerous issues raised above. While Parliament has spent considerable time debating the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration on the Future Relationship, the issues relating to the domestic implementation of the Agreement has not been debated sufficiently nor clarified by the government.

Regardless of the outcome of the next stages in the process of withdrawing from the European Union, we believe the government needs to publish the Bill in draft as soon as possible for the purposes of proper parliamentary scrutiny.

Yours sincerely,

Brexit Civil Society Alliance


Malene BratlieComment