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Ray Collins on the many improvements made by colleagues in both Houses to the first ‘post-Brexit’ Bill, as it concludes parliamentary scrutiny

Monday sees the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill return to the Lords, when we will debate Commons amendments. With the sanctions that currently take effect in the UK almost exclusively happening via EU regulations, this was the first piece of Brexit legislation to be considered by Parliament. And borne out of the necessity for a new domestic legal framework to be in place before next March.

Perhaps due to the cross party consensus on this necessity, the Bill started off in the Lords. That however, didn’t stop it facing tough parliamentary scrutiny. Not least, because when introduced it contained a bundle of ‘Henry VIII powers’ that looked to reduce the accountability of the government to Parliament. Instead, allowing laws to be changed using statutory instruments and regulations – rather than going through primary legislation. At the same time, core British values that demand the respect for human rights were not included; and despite the eye-catching title of the Bill, only one of the 53 clauses was dedicated to ‘anti-money laundering’.

Peers across the Lords expressed huge concern about this naked power grab by the government. Crossbencher Lord Pannick, a leading barrister, warned it could hand ministers “unrestricted and unregulated power”. Lord Judge, the former Lord Chief Justice, said the Bill risked allowing an “alarming accretion of power to the executive”. And Conservative Lord Cormack was “disturbed” by the idea that Parliament would be “conferring a blank cheque” on the government to do what it liked. Taking a side swipe at the hard Brexiteers in his own party, he added: “the mantra of taking back control means only one thing to me: it is Parliament taking back control.”

Through an amendment led by Lord Judge, the government was defeated on the clause that would have allowed Ministers to create new criminal offences without having to pass primary legislation. Of the Bill’s less than marginal focus on anti-money laundering, that lone clause gave sweeping powers to amend, rewrite or revoke legislation. But cross-party work headed by LibDem Baroness Bowles saw us achieve huge concessions from the government.

On human rights, Labour’s successful Lords amendment expanded the criteria for imposing sanctions to include unequivocal commitment to promote them. At Commons Committee stage, my shadow ministerial colleague Helen Goodman MP introduced so-called ‘Magnitsky’ amendments. These give the UK the same ability as Canada or the US to implement targeted sanctions, such as visa bans and asset freezes, against gross human rights abusers. Having first resisted, the government did a complete u-turn following the Skripal incident in Salisbury – tabling amendments for Commons Report. Labour signed those amendments, pleased that Ministers had seen the light. But it was unfortunate that it took such a tragic event to force their hands.

The other big victory in the Commons came with the government conceding on Margaret Hodge MP’s simple measure to require British overseas territories and crown dependencies to publish public registers of beneficial ownership. The Paradise and Panama Papers have shown how such places play a major role in aiding tax evasion and money laundering. Open registers will ensure we know who owns what and where, and transparency over the flow of money. As Margaret so ably argued, it will transform the landscape that allows tax avoiders, tax evaders, kleptocrats, criminals, gangs involved in organised crime or those wanting to fund terrorism to operate how they do now.

Though we have achieved a number of important things in this Bill, it is in no uncertain terms perfect. We have a long way to go to tackle the huge problems of money laundering and tax evasion. Similarly, the government has come no nearer to explaining how it will coordinate sanctions policy with our EU partners post-Brexit. Everyone knows sanctions work as a foreign policy lever when coordinated with other countries, and we need a formal mechanism to ensure it is done in a systematic and orderly way.

Lord Ray Collins of Highbury is both Shadow Foreign Office Minister and Shadow International Development Minister in the House of Lords. He tweets @Lord_Collins

Published 20th May 2018

Laundered and pressed

Ray Collins on the many improvements made by colleagues in both Houses to the first ‘post-Brexit’ Bill, as it concludes parliamentary scrutiny


Summary of 15 government defeats in Lords

  1. ‘Customs Union’: makes repeal of 1972 Act conditional on Minister laying report before Parliament outlining steps taken to negotiate a customs union as part of the framework for future UK-EU relations. Amendment/Vote:
  2. ‘Enhanced protection for certain areas of EU legislation’: prevents directly applicable EU law relating to employment, consumers and environment from being modified, unless by primary legislation or SI subject to enhanced scrutiny procedure. Amendment/Vote:
  3. ‘Charter of Fundamental Rights’: ensures Charter – minus preamble and EU citizenship rights chapter – continues to apply to retained EU law. Amendment/Vote:
  4. ‘Powers of legal challenge’: removes provision giving Ministers powers to make regulations that allow challenges to validity of retained EU law. Amendment/Vote:
  5. ‘Legal compliance’: guarantees right of action in domestic law when failure to comply with general principles of EU law as currently recognised by European Court of Justice. Amendment/Vote:
  6. ‘Limiting scope of delegated (Henry VIII) powers’: limits ministerial power to use reduce-scrutiny secondary legislation to change primary legislation, replacing ‘if appropriate’ with ‘necessary’ throughout the Bill. Amendment/Vote:
  7. ‘Meaningful role for Parliament at end of negotiations’: enhances ‘Grieve amendment’ to allow Commons to decide course of action should Parliament reject draft agreement, promised additional statute, or ‘No Deal’ scenario. Amendment/Vote:
  8. ‘Mandating negotiations’: requires government to seek parliamentary approval for phase 2 negotiations. Similar EU27 leaders approving mandate of M. Barnier’s negotiating team. Amendment/Vote
  9. ‘Refugee family reunion rights’: introduces statutory requirement on Ministers to report on progress of discussions with EU within 6 months of Royal Assent, and periodically on implementation of such agreements. Amendment/Vote:
  10. ‘Northern Ireland’: requires Ministers and devolved authorities to act in ways compatible with 1998 Northern Ireland Act; and have due regard to December 2017 UK-EU Joint Report, including mutual recognition of Belfast principles and current provisions on equalities and human rights. Amendment/Vote:
  11. ‘Facilitating future UK cooperation with EU’: helps formalise PM’s stated position, making clear that nothing in the legislation prevents replication of future EU law in domestic law or continued participation of UK in EU agencies. Amendment/Vote:
  12. ‘Removing fixed exit day’: reinstates original exit day provisions to the Bill, and makes clear regulations appointing exit day are subject to approval in both Houses. Amendment/Vote:
  13. ‘EEA’: prevents any sections of the Act that do not commence on Royal Assent from doing so unless government negotiates to achieve international agreement allowing continued participation in European Economic Area. Amendment/Vote:
  14. ‘Sifting of Brexit-related regulations’: extends proposed sifting mechanism committee in Commons to Lords and makes recommendations in either House binding on Ministers. Amendment/Vote:
  15. ‘Environmental protections’: ensures EU environmental principles continue to have a basis in domestic law and calls on government to establish a statutory body to enforce compliance. Amendment/Vote:

For further details of our work, scrutinising legislation and holding the government to account follow @LabourLordsUK

EU Withdrawal Bill - summary of 15 Lords defeats

Summary of 15 government defeats in Lords


Maggie Jones on cross-party moves that could help shore up Michael Gove’s ‘green’ credibility

What does Environment Secretary Michael Gove really think about the promises he has made on the environment? While he gives the appearance of genuinely caring, even his most ardent supporters are starting to question if he has the commitment and political will to turn promises into reality. And the contradiction will be confronted at tomorrow’s Third Reading of the EU Withdrawal Bill.

A cross party amendment, tabled by crossbencher Lord Krebs and with formal support from myself, Conservative Lord Deben and LibDem Baroness Bakewell, seeks to set out the environmental principles that should underpin UK law post-Brexit.

It should not be necessary. Last November, Mr Gove acknowledged the need to set out such principles and the remit for the statutory body which would hold public bodies to account. Then, late last week, we had first sight of a much delayed consultation document addressing these issues. Meanwhile, rumours abound that Gove has lost a battle with Cabinet colleagues on the proposed powers of the watchdog. It certainly seems that way.

The document out for consultation is a bitter disappointment to NGOs and individuals concerned about our environment standards post Brexit – particularly when we have relied on Europe to deliver for us in the past. For example, it makes it clear that the application of any principles would be subservient to other government priorities. The environment is portrayed as the enemy of growth rather than complementary; and there is no understanding of the advantages of an environmental net gain principle in wider government policies.

Although the document stresses the role of Parliament to hold the Executive to account using existing mechanisms such as select committees, there is scant acknowledgement of the advantages of external scrutiny and accountability.

In addition, the proposed watchdog is a toothless imitation of current EU institutions’ powers to intervene and compel governments to act. Instead, it will advise and lay reports to Parliament – with any formal action only possible at the end of a long line of bureaucratic hoops. This is a long way from reflecting the powers of the European Commission and the European Court of Justice, whose very authority helps to deliver compliance before formal legal action is necessary.

Finally, as Mr Gove has already admitted, there will be a governance gap. The consultation proposes a Bill in the next Queen’s Speech, so would not be enacted until the end of 2019 at the earliest. A lot could go wrong before then. Gove’s previous promises for legislation are already beginning to stack up, with more and more questions being asked about when they might see the light of day. This new Bill will take its place in that long queue, and his more antagonistic colleagues will no doubt help hinder its progress.

Our amendment addresses these failings. It sets out the existing EU environmental principles which should apply in the UK and requires an independent body with appropriate enforcement powers to be in place within six months of the Act being passed. This would ensure continuity of standards from Brexit day and, who knows, may even be welcomed by the Defra Secretary and help shore up his credibility as a new found champion of green causes.

Baroness Maggie Jones of Whitchurch is Shadow Defra Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets @WhitchurchGirl

Published 15th May 2018


A principled stand

Maggie Jones on cross-party moves that could help shore up Michael Gove’s ‘green’ credibility

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