Brexit – Judgement Day? Guide to Possible Amendments to The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

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On Tuesday 12 June, the House of Commons will debate amendments passed by the Upper Chamber of Parliament, the House of Lords, to the European Union Withdrawal Bill. 

Also known as the ‘Great Repeal Bill’, the most basic functions of this bill if passed will be to:

  • Repeal the European Communities Act 1972, the legislation which brought the UK into the European Economic Community (EEC), later to become the European Union (EU). By doing so, the bill will also end the supremacy of European law over UK law and the power of the European Court of Justice in the UK
  • All current EU legislation which already applies to the UK, will be copied into UK domestic law, in an effective ‘Copy and Paste’ model
  • The government also seeks by the bill to grant itself the power to ‘correct the statute book where necessary’ in relation to EU regulation copied over, avoiding parliamentary scrutiny – these are the so-called ‘Henry VIII powers’. The justification for this is that with an estimated 12,000+ EU regulations in force, this will help make it easier to correct legislation where irregularities due to Brexit occur

When the House of Lords reviewed the bill in May, a number of changes, or amendments, were made to the bill, changing its significance. Due to the unelected nature of the Lords, the Commons has the final say on amendments.

Here, Wessex Scene provides a handy lowdown of the significance of the 15 amendments the Lords made to the bill which MPs will now debate and vote on.

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Negotiate a Customs Union before the UK’s withdrawal from the EU

The first amendment, passed by 348-225 votes in the Lords, requires the UK to attempt to negotiate a Customs Union with the EU before passing the EU Withdrawal Bill. The UK being part of customs union with the EU is the current official Brexit position of the Labour Party, contrary to the government’s negotiating position.

EU Environmental Protections

Copies EU environmental protections into UK law and reinforced with the creation of a watchdog to ensure they’re being met.

Enhanced scrutiny of EU law amendments

Preventing EU law in areas such as health and safety and environmental standards being passed without Parliamentary approval.

EU Charter of Fundamental Rights

This cross-party amendment, passed by a majority of 71 in the Lords, would incorporate the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights into UK law. The charter covers a wide range of protections, including employment rights governing how workers are treated. It is more wide-ranging than the European Convention of Human Rights, already integrated into UK law via the Human Rights Act.

The government have argued integrating the charter isn’t needed as the protections it offers will be included elsewhere. Crossbencher Lord Pannick, who supported the amendment argued that not including it was a ‘recipe for confusion’ and there is ‘no coherent defence for the government’s position’.

Post-‘Copy and Paste’ EU law change 

If passed, Parliament would have to pass individual bills to change EU laws absorbed back into UK law.

Limiting Henry VIII powers

This amendment would restrict the ability of government to make legislation changes without parliamentary scrutiny, changing the wording of the bill so it only happens when ‘necessary’, as opposed to as a minister deems ‘appropriate’.

Challenging copy and pasted law

Grants UK citizens the right to go to court in the UK to challenge ‘copy and pasted’ EU law. The government will accept, provided there is a time limit to challenges of up to three years after Brexit.

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‘Meaningful Vote’

The seventh amendment would potentially allow the Commons to reject the deal reached by the government with the EU at the end of the two year negotiation period – in other words, granting the Commons a ‘meaningful vote’ on a possible deal with the EU. This follows the meaningful vote amendment proposed by Conservative backbench MP, Dominic Grieve, in December and passed by 309-305 votes. This is considered the amendment the government is most vulnerable to being defeated on.

The government is seeking to water down the meaningful vote with its own proposal for a rejected deal vote to merely require ministers to give a statement within 28 days on how they will proceed, rather than Parliament holding sway. Meanwhile, a Commons Lib Dem-led amendment to the meaningful vote proposal will seek to create a referendum on the Brexit deal vs. remaining within the EU.

Negotiation mandate

If passed, the 8th amendment requires parliamentary approval for ‘Phase Two’ negotiation mandate for the government, phase two being where the UK negotiates its future relationship with the EU.

Refugees

Requiring ministers to follow EU law on allowing asylum seekers and specifically, children, to join family members in the UK.

Good Friday Agreement

Integrating the Good Friday Agreement, by which peace was reached in Northern Ireland, into the bill. It would increase pressure on a soft border between Ireland and Northern Ireland remaining, by requiring Ireland and the UK to agree to border arrangement changes.

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Future cooperation with the EU

Makes clear that the UK can continue to replicate EU law and participate in EU agencies under future governments after Brexit. The government will accept this amendment.

Keeping UK in the Single Market

Binding the UK to stay in the European Economic Area (EEA) after Brexit. Exposing how Labour divisions over Brexit like the Conservatives, it seems that Labour will abstain and propose their own amendment, committing to ensuring access to the EU’s internal market, but not necessarily as part of the EEA.

Sifting committee

A parliamentary committee to scrutinise use of Henry VIII powers by government in amending retained EU law.

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Editor 2018-19 | International Editor 2017/18. Final year Modern History and Politics student from Bedford. Drinks far too much tea for his own good.

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