July 24, 2017 : John Downie
Third sector must voice concerns on EU (Withdrawal) Bill
With UK Government or Tory party policy – take your pick, depending on your perspective – disarray on Brexit negotiations on display once again last week, it’s almost easy to look upon it as a great political spectator sport.
If it only wasn’t so serious.
Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary, has again insisted that the UK “can of course survive” without securing a trade deal with the European Union after Brexit. He also claimed that a post-Brexit trade deal with the bloc should be “one of the easiest in human history” to agree.
Chancellor Philip Hammond keeps emphasising the need for a lengthy period of time in which UK business and the economy can adjust to leaving Europe’s single market. His view is that the transition should last at least two years.
Clearly both have different views on how Britain should approach the negotiations over Brexit – a disagreement that is at the heart of the cabinet disarray over it. This has meant that the Bill (formerly known as Great Repeal Bill, now just the Repeal Bill and published as the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill) has, after an initial barrage of criticism, quickly passed at least in media eyes into yesterday’s news story. This is probably due to the fact the Bill is delayed until the Autumn amid fears that Tory ‘Remainer rebels’ would have joined with Labour to demand key concessions. The Bill, which aims to transpose thousands of EU laws and directives into British law, may now not be brought before the Commons for a vote until October at the earliest.
The most constitutionally significant Bill to go through Parliament in a generation which will have huge implications for us all, and future generations barely got a second glance.
The new potential raft of powers for UK Government could potentially mean that Parliament is denied any real scrutiny of upwards of 1,000 pieces of legislation – which ironically, as many people have pointed out – puts a whole new and different slant on “taking back control.” It’s the Government that’s taking back control from us, and here’s why – as it stands this Bill will lead to a reduction in rights and protections in the UK because it won’t incorporate the Charter of Fundamental Rights or the principles behind EU legislation.
It also raises real issues about UKG’s commitment to (we know they don’t like or understand it) devolution. This Bill has the real potential to undermine the devolution settlements of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (if the deal with the DUP hasn’t already done it in NI already). This should be an opportunity to strengthen devolution, yet at this stage the jury is still out on whether it will or not.
What we as citizens should be concerned about is that existing scrutiny procedures for the powers in this bill are woefully inadequate. With the second reading of the Bill coming up on 7th and 13th of September, it looks like this Bill is being rushed through and without clear safeguards. People and third sector organisations in particular need to think this through and articulate our concerns.
As always in politics it’s about power -for Brexiteers, Brexit was about the EU “taking back control,” from the hated EU. Well, the EU (Withdrawal) Bill makes it very clear that the UK Government is the one getting any control.
Ironically, I don’t think that is quite what the Brexiteers had in mind.