I have been contacted by constituents who have inquired as to whether Parliament will get a say on the final terms covering the departure of the UK from the EU and the new agreement which may govern our future terms. In particular, I have been asked if I will be voting for an Amendment 7, to Clause 9, of the EU Withdrawal Bill, which, it is claimed, would give Parliament greater power to scrutinise our exit terms.
I will not be voting for Amendment 7 because the Government have laid out the detailed scrutiny role which Parliament will have. Before the UK leaves the EU, Parliament will get to vote on:
- the terms entered in to between the UK and the EU covering our exit and the new relationship.
- a bill turning the exit terms in to legislation (assuming Parliament accepted the terms in the first place
- a veto of the exit terms should Parliament utilise this legal mechanism.
This will all occur before the UK leaves the EU. With these three measures, I am entirely comfortable that the role of Parliament is covered and do not see the need to amend the EU Withdrawal Bill any further. To do so suggests using Parliament as a smokescreen to hold up the entire process of the UK leaving the EU.
The first part, covering our exit terms as we leave the EU, can be legislated by Parliament prior to the UK leaving the EU. The second part, covering future our future terms and relationship, can only, under our existing European Union law, be legislated after the UK actually leaves the EU. Therefore, the role of Parliament will be covered in two parts.
Part 1: Withdrawal Agreement
The Withdrawal Agreement, negotiated whilst the UK is still a member of the EU, will, assuming an agreement can be reached, set out the terms of the UK’s withdrawal (including an agreement on citizens’ rights, Northern Ireland and any financial settlement), as well as the details of any implementation period agreed between both sides.
This agreement will need to be signed by both parties and concluded by the EU and ratified by the UK before it can enter into force.
The EU want to have finalised the Withdrawal Agreement by October 2018. In Europe, the agreement will then require the consent of the European Parliament and final sign off by the European Council.
In the UK, the Government has committed to hold a vote on the final deal in Parliament as soon as possible after the negotiations have concluded. This vote will take the form of a resolution in both Houses of Parliament and will cover both the Withdrawal Agreement and the terms for our future relationship. The Government will not implement any parts of the Withdrawal Agreement until after this vote has taken place.
In addition to this vote, the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 (CRAG) normally requires the Government to place a copy of any treaty subject to ratification before both Houses of Parliament for a period of at least 21 sitting days, after which the treaty may be ratified unless there is a resolution against this. The Government is only able to ratify the agreement if the House of Commons does not resolve against the agreement.
If Parliament supports the resolution to proceed with the Withdrawal Agreement and the terms for our future relationship, the Government will bring forward a Withdrawal Agreement & Implementation Bill to give the Withdrawal Agreement domestic legal effect.
The Bill will implement the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement in UK law as well as providing a further opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny. This legislation will be introduced before the UK exits the EU and the substantive provisions will only take effect from the moment of exit.
Similarly, it is expected that any steps taken through secondary legislation to implement any part of the Withdrawal Agreement will only be operational from the moment of exit, though preparatory provisions may be necessary in certain cases.
Part 2: Future Relationship Agreement
As described above, the legislation governing our future relationship with the EU can only be legally concluded once the UK has left the EU. This may take the form of a single agreement or a number of agreements covering different aspects of the relationship. Whatever their final form, agreements on the future relationship are likely to require the consent of the European Parliament and conclusion by the European Council. The remaining 27 EU Member States may also need to ratify it.
In the UK, the Government will introduce further legislation where it is needed to implement the terms of the future relationship into UK law, providing yet another opportunity for proper parliamentary scrutiny. The CRAG process that I have outlined above is also likely to apply to agreements on our future relationship, depending on the final form they take.