A lot has been said about the EU Withdrawal Bill (which passed its first reading yesterday)- much of it being a bit confusing. Here’s a breakdown of what it actually is, why some aren’t too impressed with it and what happens next.
What is the EU Withdrawal Bill?
On Monday, the EU (Withdrawal) Bill passed its first reading in the Commons by 326 votes to 290. The Tories were secure in their majority, increased by even the few Labour MP’s who defied Corbyn’s three-line whip (the most severe warning to vote with the party line).
The total number of EU laws and regulations that we are covered by in the UK, regarding trade, environment, fish and a multitude of other things, is somewhere around 80,000. This was one of the main battling points for the EU referendum. ‘Taking back control’ was a key phrase and removing ourselves from the jurisdiction of the European Courts was a major part of that. “Outside the EU we wouldn’t have all the EU regulations which cost our economy £600 million a week,” Michael Gove maintained during the campaign. But given the sheer amount of laws from the EU that apply to us, to remove ourselves in March 2018, we would be in a state of legislative flux- and that would be dangerous. Theresa May recognises this and the bill initially allows all EU laws and regulations to become British laws until they are reassessed.
So what has been the response?
There have been three main responses to this; one in favour, some opposition from the Labour Party but also a line of opposition from hard-line Brexiteers within May’s own party. They believe that Theresa May is just getting us out of the EU without actually changing anything. Certainly this view has justification as it has become clear that leading politicians have realised that we will be ‘at the back of the queue’ for trade, as Obama said, if we do not keep free-movement and other EU policy. Why would anyone choose to trade with our 60 million strong nation compared to the 490 million strong EU?
By contrast, Labour think almost the opposite. Shadow-Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer believes the bill is an ‘affront to parliamentary democracy and a naked power grab’. The Bill would allow the Government to amend, remove and reconstitute the EU laws that we take into British Law. This would be behind closed doors with no parliamentary process to check them, involving the so-called ‘Henry VIII clause’. Labour are rallying in their scathing attacks of the Bill as MP Stephen Kinnock said, “Let us make no mistake, this Bill is not about delivering the will of people, rather it’s about gagging our democracy and this House…”. The Tories however, point out that should they allow all the laws to go through Parliament, there will be no time for a normal parliamentary timetable and the Commons will find itself debating ‘frivolous’ things. They assured us that the more controversial or impactful legislation will come before Parliament to be debated and dealt with appropriately.
So, what happens next?
What happens in this respect, only time will tell, but the Bill itself still has a long way to go. It has passed its first reading in the House of Commons. From there it must go the Committee Stage where each clause will be debated. They might hear evidence from experts before they eventually send the Bill with its amendments, back to the Commons. Once in the Commons, they can debate these changes before once more voting on it, to send it to the House of Lords. The Lords can debate, change or even veto this Bill so it has to be shelved for a later date (side note: this is incredibly unlikely, because as an unelected body they may want to avoid appearing like they are overturning the ‘will of the people’). To be made final, it must be fully agreed upon in both the Commons and the Lords before finally becoming an Act. For them to keep on schedule for our March leaving date, there must be no major delays to this process but parliamentary procedure must be followed.
When we voted to leave the EU, we did not know exactly what it was we were voting for and the current uncertainty surrounding the future of our legislation seems to highlight this well.