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Main facts about the EU Withdrawal Bill and delegated powers

01 Dec 2017

The government's EU Withdrawal Bill has reached committee stage in the House of Commons, and is now being discussed by the MPs. This bill, aiming to ensure that EU law will no longer apply in the UK after Brexit, will provide certainty and continuity for individuals and businesses in the UK when the UK formally leaves the UE in March 2019.

Here are the main facts about the EU Withdrawal Bill, provided by the Department for Exiting the European Union:

Key Information

  • Article 50 was triggered on 29 March 2017.
  • The Withdrawal Bill was introduced to the House of Commons for first reading on 13 July 2017.
  • The Withdrawal Bill passed second reading on 11 September 2017.
  • The Committee Stage of the Withdrawal Bill has been scheduled to begin on 14 November 2017.

What does the Bill do?

  • The Withdrawal Bill is designed to ensure that the UK exits the EU with certainty, continuity, and control.
  • The Bill will provide certainty and continuity by ensuring a functioning statute book on the day we leave the EU. We will achieve this by converting EU law into UK law as it applies in the UK at the moment of exit.
  • The Bill will provide control by ensuring that it is for our sovereign Parliament (and in some cases for the devolved legislatures) to make any future changes to the law. This will be done by repealing the European Communities Act, which currently grants supremacy to EU law.
  • In order to ensure continuity, certainty, and control, the Bill will create temporary, limited powers to make secondary legislation. These powers enable ministers to make corrections to laws that do not operate appropriately once we have left the EU. This includes a power that will allow Ministers to implement provisions in the withdrawal agreement that need to be in place for day one of exit. This is to provide certainty to the people and businesses of the UK that our statute book will be ready for day one of exit.

Why is the Bill essential?

  • The Bill aims to maximise certainty for individuals and businesses as we leave the EU. It is in no one’s interests for there to be a cliff edge when we leave the EU, and so the laws and rules that we have now will, so far as possible, continue to apply on exit day. This provides the basis for a smooth and orderly exit.
  • Without this Bill, the UK’s statute book would contain significant gaps once we leave the EU, and there would also be major uncertainty about the meaning of many existing laws.
  • Parliament has already voted overwhelmingly to trigger Article 50, which will take the UK out of the EU. A vote for Article 50 but against this Bill would be a vote for a chaotic exit and legal uncertainty.

What other primary legislation will be needed?

  • The Withdrawal Bill does not aim to make any major policy changes. Rather, the powers in the Bill are intended to ensure that, whatever the outcome of the negotiations, the statute book can continue to function.
  • New primary legislation beyond the Withdrawal Bill will be required to implement new policies or institutional arrangements that go beyond replicating current EU arrangements in UK law. The Queen’s Speech set out the further primary legislation which the Government will be bringing forward to ensure the UK is ready for exit day, such as Bills on Customs, Immigration and Trade.

What are delegated powers?

  • Delegated powers allow ministers in Westminster and devolved administrations to use ‘secondary legislation’ (sometimes called ‘statutory instruments’) to do things, in this case corrections to the law, which would otherwise require another Bill (primary legislation).
  • Bills set policy and require significant parliamentary debate before becoming law. Secondary legislation is still subject to parliamentary scrutiny, but can be used by ministers for detailed measures where Parliament has agreed the broader policy in an Act.

Why are delegated powers essential for EU Exit?

  • More than 8,000 pieces of UK legislation and 12,000 pieces of directly applicable EU legislation have effect in the UK linked to our membership of the EU. Once the UK leaves the EU many of these laws will cease to apply. For the UK to have a functioning statute book at the moment of exit, we must therefore bring EU laws into UK law and preserve EU derived domestic law.
  • A large number of these laws will, however, need correcting in order to function correctly. Many EU laws will not make sense once the UK is not a member state of the EU – for instance, those laws that make reference to EU institutions. The Government will also need to implement the eventual withdrawal agreement, and ensure the UK continues to honour international obligations.
  • The Government has a limited timeframe to ensure a functioning statute book by exit day. In order to make the necessary changes within this timeframe, the Bill will create temporary, limited powers to make secondary legislation through delegated powers.

Why are delegated powers the best solution?

  • Delegated powers are essential for delivering a smooth and orderly exit from the EU. The Government has found no viable alternative means to make these changes before exit day other than to seek powers to make secondary legislation.
  • There are four key reasons for making the legislative changes required to give statutory effect to EU withdrawal by secondary legislation: (1) the prohibitively large amount of primary legislation which would otherwise be required; (2) the wide range of different outcomes that could be agreed through our negotiations with the EU; (3) the mechanistic nature of many of the amendments; and (4) the need to confer these powers on the devolved administrations.
  • Secondary legislation is already used frequently. In the previous two Parliaments, an average of 1,338 (200510) and 1,071 (201015) statutory instruments went through Parliament annually.

How are delegated powers limited, and subject to parliamentary scrutiny?

  • The Withdrawal Bill does not give unrestricted powers to the Government. For example, the key delegated powers will be temporary expiring by two years after exit day. Moreover, the delegated powers will be restricted for instance, they cannot be used to introduce new taxation or new criminal offences.
  • The use of delegated powers does not mean avoiding parliamentary scrutiny. There are longstanding procedures in place for Parliament to give due attention to statutory instruments, and Parliament ultimately has the power to reject any proposed change to the law.

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