Brexit Constitution

European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill – An Update

The Assembly will debate a Legislative Consent Motion in relation to the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill this afternoon.

Estimated reading time: 3 Minutes

21 January 2020

Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg | View this post in Welsh

The Assembly will debate a Legislative Consent Motion in relation to the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill this afternoon.

The Bill was introduced into the UK Parliament on 19 December 2019. It provides for the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement agreed between the UK and EU into domestic law.

Senedd Research published a research briefing on the Bill and the Welsh Government’s Legislative Consent Memorandum on 8 January.

What has happened in Westminster?

Since the publication of our research briefing, the Bill has finished its passage through the House of Commons. Members of Parliament sought to amend the Bill during Committee Stage but none of these amendments were accepted.

The Bill was then considered by the House of Lords. During the Committee of the Whole House, the Lords suggested several amendments but the Bill was not amended at this stage.

Today is the Lords’ last opportunity to amend the Bill – Report Stage is expected to conclude later today, followed by Lords Third Reading. Yesterday, during the first day of Report Stage, the UK Government suffered three defeats. The Lords passed an amendment requiring the UK Government to provide EU nationals with physical documentation to prove their right to remain in the UK. The Lords also passed amendments to remove the power given to UK Ministers in the Bill to pass regulations specifying circumstances in which lower courts could depart from EU case law after the implementation period and also to allow cases to be referred to the Supreme Court to decide whether to overturn EU case law. These amendments and any others will be considered by the House of Commons tomorrow.

What about Wales?

On 6 January, the Welsh Government published its Legislative Consent Memorandum in relation to the Bill, stating that it cannot recommend that the Assembly gives its consent to the Bill.

The same day, the External Affairs and Additional Legislation (EAAL) Committee held a scrutiny session with the First Minister on matters regarding the Bill. Following the meeting, the First Minister wrote (PDF, 381KB) to the Committee setting out the clauses the Welsh Government identified as requiring consent, but which are not listed by the UK Government as needing the Assembly’s consent.

On 8 January, the Welsh Government wrote (PDF, 82KB) to the Lord Speaker of the House of Lords, Lord Fowler, asking the Lords to table amendments (PDF, 152KB) to the Bill which aim “to protect the interests of the devolved institutions”. A number of amendments that were the same as, or similar, to those proposed by the Welsh Government were tabled in the Lords. However, to date, none of these amendments have been accepted.

The EAAL Committee published a report, the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill: Legislative consent on 16 January.

The Committee also wrote to the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, Steve Barclay, to make the case for amendments to clause 29 of the Bill to give the devolved legislatures a role in reviewing EU law during the implementation period.   

The Constitutional and Legislative Affairs (CLA) Committee published a report (PDF, 163KB) on the Welsh Government’s Legislative Consent Memorandum on the Bill on 17 January.

In a letter (PDF, 127KB) to the Counsel General and Brexit Minister, Jeremy Miles, dated 17 January, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union said:

The Sewel Convention holds that the UK Government should not normally press ahead with legislation without legislative consent motions from devolved administrations but the circumstances of our departure from the European Union are specific, singular and exceptional.

In its report on the Bill, the CLA Committee came to the conclusion that proceeding with the Bill without devolved consent (on matters which the UK Government believe that consent is required) would “have significant adverse constitutional consequences for the future of the Sewel Convention and devolution”.

And the other devolved legislatures?

On 8 January the Scottish Parliament decided not to agree a legislative consent motion for the Bill and the Northern Ireland Assembly voted yesterday to withhold consent.

Article by Manon George, Senedd Research, National Assembly for Wales

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