A core part of the Withdrawal Agreement is that there shall be a “transition or implementation period” under Article 126. This period begins when the UK leaves the EU and ends, by default on 31 December 2020. However, the UK and EU can jointly agree, on a one-off basis, to extend that period by a further period of ‘up to two-years,’ under Article 132.
During the transition period, the UK must follow most of EU law in (mostly) the same way as it does now as a Member State. However, it will no longer have representation and voting rights in the EU institutions when the EU makes decisions about how EU law should change. There are some exceptions to this continuation of EU law, which are set out in the Withdrawal Agreement itself.
This Insight refers to the previous European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill (October 2019). It does not relate to the bill presented to Parliament on 19 December 2019.
This is the second version of the withdrawal agreement bill, which was first published in October.
It is needed to enshrine the deal Boris Johnson struck with the EU in October in UK law and legitimise the transition period before full departure on 31 December 2020. It includes several key changes that reduce parliamentary scrutiny of the Brexit bill and give the government freedom to conduct negotiations without parliamentary approval.
What stays the same?
- Powers to make the Brexit deal legal domestically.
- The legislation enabling the transition period allowing the UK to stay in the customs union and single market between 1 February and 21 December 2020.
- Powers to ensure key elements of the European Communities Act of 1972 remain applicable domestically. The UK will remain a rule-taker and not a rule maker.
- Extensive powers to ministers and devolved governments to deal with the separation issues.
- So-called “Henry VIII powers”, under which ministers can repeal or amend an act of parliament without going back to MPs, allowing them to implement the protocol on special arrangements intended to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
- Powers and arrangements to ensure EU citizens’ rights laid out in the withdrawal agreement are implemented.
What has been removed?
- The clauses that give parliamentary say on future Brexit deals, negotiating objectives or the extension period have been removed. Specifically, they are:
- The clause giving MPs the right to approve an extension to the transition period.
- The clause 31 requirement for parliamentary approval for negotiations on the future relationship in the October bill has gone.
- The removal of clauses pledging alignment with the EU on workers’ rights.
- Legal protections for refugee children reunited with family members in the UK have been watered down.
- The promise that the government’s position on negotiating the future relationship will be in line with the political declaration that accompanied the withdrawal agreement.
- A clause outlawing an extension to the Brexit transition period beyond 31 December is included.
- A clause locking in Brexit at the stroke of midnight, 31 December. The only way that can change is if the EU changes its summer daylight saving.
- The bill gives the government new powers in several areas, including Northern Ireland, to change Brexit-related laws through secondary legislation rather than primary, which has the potential to reduce parliamentary scrutiny.
- Time limits on any discussion of the divorce bill payments, removing the option of debate up to March 2021. T
- It gives the House of Lords’ EU committee the right to scrutinise developments in EU law of “vital national interest” to the UK during the transition or implementation period. The House of Commons already had these powers under the October bill.