Waiting for Answers



The Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) has still not been published. This is the piece of legislation that will implement the Withdrawal Agreement in domestic law. It’s crucial for protecting citizens rights, setting out the legal relationship between the UK and EU courts, and give effect to the Irish backstop. The WAB and the Meaningful Vote both need to be passed by Parliament for the UK to leave the EU with a deal.

The Leader of the Commons announced next week’s business with no time allotted to WAB or to any other Brexit legislation. Read the full statement to the Commons here. The Whitsun recess was announced meaning the Commons will be closed from 23rd May to the 4th June.

However, after meeting with the Prime Minister, Graham Brady MP, (who is the chair of the influential Conservative party committee the 1922 committee, made up of backbench Conservative MPs) said he expected the Prime Minister to bring the legislation to leave the EU before the European elections. Therefore he expects WAB to be brought to the Commons before 23rd May. This leaves the PM with two weeks to introduce and pass the legislation. Arguably, this is not enough time for proper scrutiny of any legislation, particularly a piece of legislation like WAB. If WAB was introduced next Monday (not currently planned, and is unlikely) that leaves just 7 working days in Parliament to go through all the legislative stages (laid out here) in both the House of Commons and House of Lords. That would be extremely rushed.

The key thing to look out for is a last minute change in Commons business next week. 

It’s more likely that the PM will introduce the legislation after the European elections and the Whitsun recess. Her government has publicly said it expects the country to go forward with the European elections and therefore does not expect to get WAB through Parliament before the 23rd May. Number 10 has said it will introduce the legislation when it expects to get it through the Commons, however the politics haven’t shifted in that direction and the cross-party talks between Conservatives and Labour, to try and find a deal with a majority in the Commons, have stalled with little sign of success at the moment. WAB is therefore likely to continue to be delayed and unpublished for the time being. Watch this space for more updates. 

Open Letter Reply
On the 14th March, we sent an open letter to the Secretary of State for the Department of Exiting the EU, Stephen Barclay MP raising our concerns about the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) and parliamentary scrutiny. You can read the original letter we sent here. In our letter, we raised concerns that WAB had not been published and therefore there would not be enough time for Parliament or civil society to scrutinse it. Without proper scrutiny of what is likely to be a highly complex and constitutionally important Bill, parliamentarians and wider stakeholders will not have a proper voice in this process.

We asked the government why WAB could not be published in draft. That would give parliamentarians, civil society and business as much time as possible to scrutinise its provisions. Our letter had several specific questions that the White Paper on the Bill does not address. Since our letter, very few of these questions have been clarified government. See also our blog on why the government should publish WAB in draft form now.

We have now received a reply from the Minister which you can see on our website here.

The Minister has not addressed many of the key issues we raised in our March letter. This includes concerns we raised over Ireland and Northern Ireland, the “additional procedure”, and a lack of a timetable for proper scrutiny of WAB.

While the Minister emphasised that the government is committed to proper parliamentary scrutiny, the continued lack of a published bill or any clarifications on how the government will make good on its commitments in the Withdrawal Agreement means more uncertainty. 

Power Talks in Northern Ireland
On Tuesday the UK government and the Irish government published text from the multiparty talks to restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland. After the killing of journalist Lyra McKee there has been a renewed urge to restore the executive. 

The talks will consist of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Tanaiste (deputy head of government of Ireland), and leaders of the five main parties. The talks will be reviewed by the UK Prime Minister and the Taoiseach (Ireland’s Prime Minister) by the end of May 2019. There will be a series of working groups to attempt to find solutions to key issues preventing power sharing. 

However, with the UK gearing up for European elections and the ongoing Brexit discussion could mean that these talks don’t progress as quickly as some would like. You can read the official document published by the UK government here.

Common Travel Area
This week the UK and Irish governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding between the UK and Ireland on the Common Travel Area (CTA) to reaffirm their commitment to the CTA. You can find the full statement here.

The aim of the memorandum is to reassure both countries that the agreements will stay in place regardless of the Brexit outcome. The agreement is significantly older than the EU however it has little legal backup as it is based more on trust. The memorandum is not a legally binding document but aims to regain some trust lost during the Brexit process.

Citizens’ rights in Northern Ireland has continuously been raised by NI based organisations including the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ). CAJ raised these issues this week at a Seanad Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the UK from the EU. They highlighted the legal precariousness for citizens under CTA when the UK leaves the EU. You can read their full opening statement here.

Further to this Professor Colin Harvey from Queen’s University Belfast told the committee citizens need their rights to be codified to protect them during the Brexit process. His full statement can be found here

Marking The Government’s Homework On Brexit: A Civil Society Perspective
Yesterday, the Alliance spoke about civil society engagement and Brexit at the Institute for Government’s event on the next phase of Brexit negotiations (watch the live stream here) . It is clear that the government has so far failed to sufficiently engage with devolved administrations, business groups and civil society in the first phase of the negotiations. Read more in our latest blog here.

Birmingham roundtable: Brexit and Civil Society
In partnership with BVSC- the Centre for Voluntary Action, the Brexit Civil Society Alliance is hosting a roundtable discussion on what Brexit means for the third sector in Birmingham on the 29th May, 14.00-17.00.  
The event will bring civil society and relevant stakeholders together to network and share information and discuss what happens next and how the third sector in Birmingham can best prepare for exit day. It will also be an opportunity to express thoughts and concerns about Brexit's impact on civil society. 
Registrations/ Meet & Greet
14.00- 15.00
Introductions and a brief outline of the Brexit Civil Society Alliance
Belinda Pratten (Equally Ours): UK Shared Prosperity Fund
Alexandra Sinclair (Public Law Project): Brexit & legislative changes
Questions & Discussions
Update from the Department of Exiting the EU engagement team
General horizon scanning and where next
How can Birmingham best prepare for Exit Day

Full details can be found on our website here

Recommended Reading
UK in a Changing Europe have created a useful guide to the European elections which you can download here

Finance and Constitution Committee in the Scottish Parliament has released a report on Common Frameworks read them here.

In case you missed it you can find our new Campaign Toolkit here. Get in touch with us if you would like a hard copy.

Politics Home warns that Settled Status could be 'Windrush times ten' which you can read here.