Second reading of the Bill took place in the Lords (30 and 31 January).
A majority of the House of Lords support remaining in the EU, but the unelected upper chamber is aware it cannot brazenly oppose ‘the will of the people’ as expressed in the referendum to try to ‘stop Brexit’. Instead, the Lords will likely focus (at the upcoming Committee stage) on whether the Bill, in its current form, is fit to be made law, including detailed consideration of technical and constitutional issues such as:
On the first point, the Lords will be particularly interested in the conclusions of the House of Lords’ Constitution Committee in its latest report on the Bill. In summary, it concludes that:
You’ll recall that, at Commons’ Report stage, neither Dominic Grieve nor Joanna Cherry pushed their amendments on this issue to a vote – they both accepted the Government needed more time to consider the matter, and that it could be dealt with in the Lords.
The Constitution Committee suggests a radical re-thinking of the Bill’s approach to transposed EU legislation, namely, that the Bill should provide that all retained direct EU law (ie EU Regulations which are to be transposed into UK law on exit day) be given the status of an Act of Parliament as if made on exit day. The Committee explains:
That would require some significant redrafting of the Bill, whether proposed by the Government or through Lords’ amendments put to a vote, but given the seriousness of the matter (compliance of the Bill with the rule of law), it is imperative that the matter is now properly addressed.
In terms of the Charter, the Lords and Commons’ Joint Committee on Human Rights has published a report analysing the Government’s own ‘right by right analysis’ of how those rights are protected elsewhere in UK law. It concludes:
Again, recall that, despite being very exercised about the Charter, at Commons’ Report stage, Dominic Grieve did not table an amendment in respect of the preservation of the Charter (and other EU ‘entrenched’ law) in UK law, in part, because he thought the lawyers in the House of Lords would address the matter in depth.
What’s clear is that these sorts of fine technical issues can no longer be ‘broad-brushed’ – it’s time to get right down to the real nitty gritty.