Spotlight on the UK Government presenting the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill to Parliament (19 December 2019)

19 December 2019

The new UK Government has today presented to Parliament the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill or “WAB”.  The purpose of the WAB is to implement, and make other provision in connection with, the agreement between the UK and the EU under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union (the “Withdrawal Agreement”).

Treaties entered into by the UK are not directly binding in English domestic law. They must be “incorporated” or implemented (where necessary) by domestic implementing legislation.  The UK Government’s practice is to implement treaties before ratification, in order to ensure that the UK is able to fulfil its international obligations from the moment they come into force.  The WAB is a manifestation of this practice: namely, a (hugely significant) piece of domestic legislation that will need to be in place prior to the UK’s ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement, aimed at ensuring the UK’s ability to comply with that Agreement from the moment it enters into force.

Two notable features of the WAB from a public international law perspective are (1) its repeal of s. 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (clause 31) (i.e., the repeal of the requirement for a “meaningful vote”) and disapplication of s. 20 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act (which means that the usual framework for parliamentary scrutiny of treaties subject to ratification does not apply to the Withdrawal Agreement, thus facilitating a speedier ratification process than would otherwise be possible) (clause 32); and (2) the prohibition it contains on extending the implementation period (the Withdrawal Agreement foresees an implementation period potentially lasting up to the end of 2022, while the WAB prohibits Ministers from agreeing to an extension of the implementation period beyond the end of the default period, which ends in December 2020) (clause 33).  These two features are consistent with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s commitment to “get Brexit done”, by helping to ensure that the UK can leave the EU by 31 January 2020, and by fixing in legislation a commitment to work to a conclusion of negotiations on the future economic partnership between the UK and the EU by the end of 2020.

For information on the progress of the Bill, and for a link to the current text of the Bill, see here.

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