Legislating for Brexit part 2: what is left to do as the UK’s exit from the European Union?



Brexit inevitably requires a whole range of domestic changes - from immigration, to agriculture and fisheries and road haulage rules. Our previous post on legislating for Brexit explained what has been done so far to prepare for UK’s exit from the European Union with the EU Withdrawal Act and the challenges arising from it.

In this explainer, we take a look at what’s next on the legislative timetable and the Brexit bills that the Government has promised to introduce to Parliament.

Upcoming Brexit bills

The Government has so far announced twelve Brexit bills. Some cover areas where significant policy changes are expected (agriculture and fisheries) or in areas that previously governed by the EU (customs or trade). t the time of writing, four of these Brexit bills have received Royal Assent, meaning they are now part of UK law. These include the EU Withdrawal Act, Haulage Permits & Trailer Registration Act, the Nuclear Safeguards Act and the Sanctions Bill & Anti-Money Laundering Act.  

However, there have been significant delays in bringing forward some of the bills, and a total of six Brexit bills have yet to be introduced to Parliament. This is partly because of the highly contentious political landscape. It is also because the Government has yet to agree, both within the cabinet itself and with the EU, on what our future relationship with the EU will be - and this agreement will have implications for post-exit domestic policy.  

Below is a list of all the Brexit bills that the Government has so far announced will be introduced to Parliament:

  • EU Withdrawal Bill:This will end the mechanism through which EU law is given effect and transpose EU law onto the UK statute book (received royal assent June 2018)

  • Withdrawal Agreement Bill- This will give legal effect to the withdrawal agreement reached with the European Union (White Paper available here)

  • Customs Bill (formerly titled the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill) - This will enable the UK to run its own customs system, including setting and collecting customs duties (this bill is already introduced to Parliament, explanatory notes available here).

  • Trade Bill - This will enable the UK to negotiate and operate its own international trade policy. There is a key issue here about achieving parliamentary control over trade agreements the Government wants to enter into (this bill is already introduced to Parliament-explanatory notes available here).

  • Immigration Bill - This will enable the UK to operate its own immigration system in relation to EU countries after it has left the EU (still not published or introduced to Parliament, Home Secretary Sajid Javid has indicated it may introduced in early 2019).

  • Fisheries Bill - This will enable the UK to run its own fisheries system (consultation paper published here).

  • Agriculture Bill - This will establish a new system for payments to farmers and landowners after leaving the EU Common Agricultural Policy. This is potentially away to incentivise stronger protection for the countryside this bill is already introduced to Parliament-explanatory notes available here)

  • Nuclear Safeguards Bill - This ensures the UK continues to meet its international obligations for safe treatment of civil nuclear materials and for non-proliferation, after leaving the EU and Euratom. Many supporters of soft Brexit want to keep the UK in Euratom (This bill has already received Royal Assent)

  • Sanctions Bill & Anti-Money Laundering Bill - This will enable the UK to operate its own policy to impose or remove sanctions on other countries. (received Royal Assent in May 2018)

  • Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill (published Bill in December 2017 and then out for consultation and not in House yet)

  • Environmental Principles and Governance Bill- this will ensure that environmental protections are not weakened as a result of leaving the EU and will also establish a watchdog to hold the Government to account on environmental outcomes (consultation launched, a draft of the legislation will likely be published in January 2019)

  • Haulage Permits & Trailer Registration Bill- will ensure that the UK can operate a permit scheme for international road haulage for whichever journeys may require permits and introduce a trailer registration scheme to allow UK trailers to be used freely internationally (this bill has already received Royal Assent).

Running out of time, running out of scrutiny

As the clock is ticking down towards exit day, the tighter the legislative timetable will be.

Normally, a bill goes through a range of parliamentary stages, where MPs and Peers scrutinise the bill, debate it and potentially add amendments. This takes time and the longer the Government waits to introduce the various Brexit bills, the less opportunity for proper scrutiny from parliamentarians and the general public.

If the Government secures a deal with the EU, a transition period will probably last up to December 2020*, where everything stays the same. That will provide some breathing space in terms of passing all Brexit-related legislation.

If there is no deal and everything needs to be in place by March 2019, there will be immense pressure on parliamentary time and capacity to pass all these pieces of legislation.

* the transition period could be longer or shorter depending on what is agreed.