Monday, September 11, 2017

European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.

For last two days of Parliamentary business, MPs have been debating the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. Over 100 MPs spoke in the debate. Listened in on much of it. Must admit I found much of it quite repetitive. Lots of very good speeches but after the early opening speeches, there was not much more to be said. I shared my thoughts on the issue with Radio Wales listeners on Good Evening Wales tonight at 6.00. In reality there is not as much difference in view across the Commons, as is often portrayed, apart from those who simply do not accept the people's vote to leave on June 23rd 2016. Most MPs accept that the UK is going to leave the EU, even if there is disagreement about how it's to happen and what sort of transition is going to be arranged.

Today's debate was about the practicalities of how we are going to leave. What the Bill proposes is that all EU law is transposed into British Law when we leave, giving maximum legal certainty and continuity to the UK on 'Brexit Day'. It repeals the European Communities Act 1972. It ensures that, wherever possible, the same rules and laws apply the day before and day after we leave. And it gives ministers in this Parliament the power to make statutory instruments to deal with the transition. This procedure is often referred to as Henry V111 powers. It's based on Ol Henry passed legislation to do pretty well whatever he wanted. This element of the Bill has been the major 'bone of contention' in the debate, and is being interpreted as a 'power grab'. Personally I do think this is a wild exaggeration - made mostly by those who still hope that we reverse the referendum position.

As a general principle, I do think Henry V111 powers are only acceptable if there is not any other reasonable way to proceed. A Government's capacity to proceed without parliamentary approval is the final resort. And that is what will happen in practise. We will be voting on this Bill in the next hour, and I expect it to be approved comfortably. But that should not be taken as total approval. The Government has said it is in 'listening mode' and I expect amendments to be accepted at Committee stage, with some moved by Conservative MPs, even the Government itself. Securing the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill through The House of Commons is going to be (and should be) hotly debated. And then it will be  on to the House of Lords where the temperature will rise even higher.

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