11: Great Repeal Bill – Her Majesty’s a Pretty Nice Girl
Wednesday’s Queen’s Speech was dominated by Brexit (even the Queen’s hat was EU themed). Eight of the 24 proposed Bills and draft Bills in the Speech related to the UK’s exit from the EU.
First and foremost (for this blog at least), there is to be a Repeal Bill – the adjective ‘Great’ has been now been formally dropped because Parliamentary clerks don’t let ministers include propagandist language in the official titles of bills – described in the following terms:
‘A bill will be introduced to repeal the European Communities Act and provide certainty for individuals and businesses.’
The Briefing Paper indicates that ‘the Bill does not put any constraints on the withdrawal agreement we will make with the EU and further legislation will be introduced to support such an agreement if and when required’. No details are given beyond those set out in the White Paper.
The Queen announced seven other Brexit bills:
- A customs bill, to replace EU customs rules and allow the UK to impose its own tariffs after Brexit. Given the ongoing debate about the UK’s future membership of the customs union (certain Labour MPs, the Lib Dems and the SNP are all in favour of staying in) and the DUP’s opposition to any sort of ‘special status’ for Northern Ireland and its manifesto commitment to a ‘frictionless’ Irish border, the Government has a real challenge proposing a solution which will command a majority in the Commons (and arguably more so in the Lords, given its lack of a majority). The Briefing Paper also refers to ‘flexibility to accommodate future trade agreements with the EU and others’.
- A trade bill to allow the UK to operate its own trade policy after Brexit. Little detail is given in the Briefing Paper. This may also face opposition from those MPs determined to keep the UK in the EU customs union.
- An immigration bill to allow the UK to set its own immigration policy in respect of EEA nationals – ending ‘free movement’ as we currently know it. The Briefing Paper states the Bill will ‘still allow us to attract the brightest and best’ – which suggests the introduction of a quota system for sectors with a high proportion of migrants (eg education, the health and care services and agriculture). The Prime Minister gave an outline of the UK Government’s proposals to an EU summit on Thursday evening, describing it as ‘fair’ and ‘generous’, although the reception has been mixed. Further details will be announced in Parliament on Monday (and will be the subject of a future blog post).
- A fisheries bill to enable the UK to take control of its fishing waters after Brexit and to set fishing quotas. No further detail is given in the Briefing Paper but, before the General Election, a leaked letter from Environment Minister Andrea Leadsom to the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation said that ‘no decision has yet been made on the extent to which the EU legislation governing the common fisheries policy will be incorporated into domestic law’ but ‘as we leave, we will look to disapply the key elements of the CFP that are most unpopular and unworkable for the UK as a coastal state, including those on mutual access and EU-level quote setting.’
- An agriculture bill to support farmers after Brexit takes them out of the common agriculture policy. The CAP currently provides an element of consistency not only across the EU Single Market, but across the UK internal market. As agriculture is a devolved matter, there will need to be new UK-wide frameworks (a UK CAP), which will in turn require wholly new inter-governmental machinery.
- A nuclear safeguards bill to set up a nuclear safeguards regime to compensate for the fact that Brexit will take the UK out of Euratom, a separate treaty governing safety in the civil nuclear power industry. The Briefing Note indicates that the Office for Nuclear Regulation will take on this role.
- An international sanctions bill to allow the UK to continue applying international sanctions, because after Brexit it will no longer be bound by EU sanctions policy. A new sovereign UK framework is to be established.
The 16 ‘non-Brexit’ Bills are beyond the scope of this blog, but are listed and described in the Briefing Paper. Our colleague Angus Walker discusses what the Queen’s Speech means for infrastructure in his long-running Planning Act blog here.
There has been almost as much media comment on those matters which are not in the Queen’s Speech. There is nothing, for example, on the scrapping of universal free school lunches, means-testing of the winter fuel payment or an energy price cap. There is nothing about social care (or the ‘dementia tax’), save that ministers will ‘work to improve social care and bring forward proposals for consultation’. There is no sign of an end to the pensions ‘triple lock’ (promised in the Conservative manifesto but opposed by the DUP). No legislation is announced to implement Conservative plans to repeal the Fixed Term Parliaments Act. And there is no mention of fox hunting or grammar schools.
The total of 24 bills and draft bills (plus three finance bills to implement Budget plans) over a two year session (the Government having cancelled next year’s Queens Speech to make more time for Brexit legislation) is relatively lightweight – about half the average. Her Majesty may not have had a lot to say, but Parliament will have its hands full scrutinizing the mass of subsidiary legislation which will be introduced under the Repeal Bill to cope with the domestic implications of Brexit. MPs may need a stack of cold towels to hand, for head-wrapping …
‘Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl, but she doesn’t have a lot to say’ (The Beatles, Her Majesty)
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23 June 2017