With Big Ben currently out of action, the assembled masses of the House of Commons are set to put on a ding-dong of their own. Later today, we will see the beginning of the committee stage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. And it looks like it might be a show worth watching.
Let me offer a very quick crash course on where we are:
With the UK Government now having officially signalled an intention to leave the EU, the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill was introduced to transfer EU law in to domestic law. This was meant to offer peace of mind and to assure people that on ‘Brexit day’, we would start off from (more or less) a status quo position.
Due to the overwhelming complexity of untangling from the EU, UK Government ministers now wish to arm themselves with a range of new powers which will allow them to make the necessary tweaks and changes to legislation; making the old EU pieces fit in a new UK context.
While this is a simple solution to a complex and time consuming problem, the idea that Ministers will be given carte blanche to make changes with little or no scrutiny has raised a few eyebrows – particularly when you consider that almost every aspect of our daily lives is, in one way or another, linked to this process.
The Bill cleared its first few hurdles in the House of Commons, but only following promises that amendments would be made and concessions granted at the committee stage – which is where we find ourselves now.
Ordinarily, at this stage, a Bill would be scrutinised, clause by clause, in the back rooms of the Palace of Westminster, by a panel of cross party MPs. However, on matters of grand constitutional importance, a full committee of the House of Commons can be convened. This is what we will witness with regards to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill over the next few weeks.
As it stands, more than 450 amendments have been tabled and it will be simply impossible to see them all debated in the time allotted. However, within those, the Scottish and Welsh Governments’ have jointly tabled a set of 38 amendments, which they argue must be accepted to ensure devolution is respected. The threat from the Scottish Government that they will withhold legislative consent if the amendments are not approved has clearly been taken seriously and it will be very interesting to see how this brinksmanship plays out.
Without question, the EU (Withdrawal) Bill is a tedious political and legal minefield, where ‘processes’ is the key focus of a rather dry, but crucially important, debate. At this stage I offer my congratulations that you have read this far!
In partnership with our colleagues and counterparts at Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA), SCVO has dipped a toe in to these waters – offering our joint backing for the amendments put forward by the Scottish and Welsh Governments. You can read our rationale briefing paper on this here, but to summarise our position:
- we have long backed devolution and hold concerns that this legislation rides roughshod over current assumptions about devolution
- shared UK frameworks may be the way forward in some areas – but we need to have that discussion
- we remain unconvinced that any powers brought to Westminster will automatically be fully devolved at a later date
- enhanced powers as a result of Brexit may allow tailored devolved solutions to uniquely Scottish/Welsh social challenges
- logistically, it is easier for the third sector to influence decision making at a devolved level
- now is the time to have the discussion about where power should rest and how it should be used
With the Brexit debate now front and centre at Westminster, it will be a test of our democracy as to how much power Parliament can keep from Government. While a testing subject at times, this process is of paramount importance and could set a precedent with serious and long lasting repercussions.
Brexit campaigners promised that we’d be able to ‘take back control’. Let’s hope that MP’s and Parliament manage to do that in the weeks ahead.