You can enjoy the EU (Withdrawal Bill) all the way to the summer…

The EU (Withdrawal) Bill has come a long way, and there is a long way to go. But the debates that are coming up will shape the politics of Brexit; in some cases, they may shape our future relationship with the EU.

This legislation will transpose existing EU law into domestic UK law, began its passage through the House of Lords last week. After two days of debate and 190 speakers the Bill passed its latest hurdle and peers agreed to give it its second reading without a vote. It is now due to be debated by the Lords in a Committee of the whole house, where it will receive line by line scrutiny over the course of ten days, beginning on Wednesday 21 February.

This follows ten days of debate in the Commons, two at Second Reading and eight in Committee, during which over 400 amendments and 80 new clauses were tabled, and there were 41 votes. Despite much publicised rebelliousness among Conservative backbenchers, the government was defeated on just one amendment; former Attorney General, Dominic Grieve’s Amendment 7 to Clause 9, requiring a vote by Parliament on the withdrawal agreement before it is implemented. Elsewhere, the government made concessions and commitments to provide clarity in key areas, such as the application of EU case law; devolution; the creation of a sifting committee to examine the Statutory Instruments made under the Bill; and the date of Brexit, or ‘exit day’ which it set at 29 March 2019 at 11pm.

The fundamentals of the Bill remain largely intact, and concerns about the extent of executive power derived from the Bill under so called Henry VIII powers will continue in the Lords. The government does not have any sort of majority in the Lords, which is by its nature more concerned with the Bill’s constitutional implications; the Bill will be subject to forensic scrutiny when it passes through committee stage. During Second Reading, we saw an indication of the rough ride that the government can expect to receive, as a number of pro-Brexit Conservatives backed the Bill’s principles but raised concerns about the implications of a number of its clauses.

While we can expect robust debate at committee stage, we are unlikely to see any votes for the moment. Convention dictates that the Lords wait until Report to amend the Bill, but the Opposition will hope to force concessions from the government on issues of parliamentary scrutiny; delegated powers; devolution; the CJEU; the transition period; the protection of rights; and removing the government’s exit day.

This Bill is a long way off the statute book. Ten days of committee stage debate will take us to the Easter Recess, and report stage beyond that into April. For those keen on following every turn of the legislative response to Brexit there is much more yet to enjoy.

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