The role of Parliament in Brexit has been controversial. But what is more important than the Brexit Bill is what Parliament does next and how much engagement there is. Unless everyone pays attention it will be easy to miss out.
The focus of attention so far has been on the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill. The Bill, that the Government was forced to introduce as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision, is still progressing through Parliament.
How the House of Lords will deal with the Bill and potential amendments will soon become clear. However, the only issue concern as far as the Government is concerned is whether the Lords try to insist on amendments that lead to the passing of the Bill being delayed. This would, of course, mean that Mrs May would miss her self-imposed deadline of triggering Article 50 by the end of March.
What though is being given no consideration yet is what happens for Parliament after Article 50 is triggered. This is massively important for those involved in public affairs.
The Government is planning to introduce the Great Repeal Bill which actually repeals very little aside from the European Communities Act 1972. The Bill would also ‘move’ (transpose) all the existing EU rules and requirements into UK law where it can. After that, the Government could begin unpicking them and deciding which it wants to retain and which it would like to dump.
But the Bill has not yet been published so its scope and content are far from certain. It could look quite different from the broad brush outline provided so far by Ministers. Also unclear is how Parliament will consider the Bill, the approach to amendments etc.
What is not unclear but little considered so far is how much time and effort Parliament will be expected to expend on the withdrawal process.
The Government expects there to be a lot of secondary legislation associated with the Bill and the ‘unpicking’ process. There could also be reasonable amount of primary legislation as well.
This has a number of implications:
- Departments – will have to continue to work on Brexit for years. Don’t expect too much room for anything else.
- Queen’s Speech – there simply will not be the space in the Parliamentary timetable to allow for an expansive, Bill-packed agenda. The Queen’s Speech will make for slim pickings which, in turn, limits Mrs May’s ability to set out for vision for government. If you are looking for new policies that require primary legislation then think again.
- What does secondary legislation mean? These are usually in the form of Statutory Instruments (SIs) which themselves can take various forms. The criticism of this approach is often that there is a lack of engagement and scrutiny. You may hear accusations that the government are trying to exert control if SIs are used extensively.Keeping track of SIs and then seeing what the procedure in Parliament will be for them can be a challenge as well. If they are to be used a lot in dealing with the fallout from the Great Repeal Bill then close attention will need to be paid to Parliament.
- Recess – there is often criticism that Parliament takes long holidays. If there is to be scrutiny of the SIs and other legislation then it is quite possible that these recesses will be made shorter.
So there are streams of work involved in engaging with the Government over the form of Brexit and then keeping track of Parliament and what is going on. To ensure effective engagement, it would also seem desirable for Government to set out how it will engage and consult over proposed changes before they simply arrive in Parliament.
That would put the proposals in better shape which would assist in the scrutiny process. It would also overcome the current variable piecemeal approach to consultation. As long the Government’s Consultation Principles are adhered to the length, scope and scale of consultations can vary.
Brexit needs more than that. It needs transparency and accountable. That is, after all, what people voted for?