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EU (Withdrawal) Bill - Labour Lords briefing ahead of second reading debate


European Union (Withdrawal) Bill: 

  • Overview of House of Lords stages of the Bill
  • Overview of Labour Lords frontbench approach
  • Quotes from Baroness Smith of Basildon & Baroness Dianne Hayter

Next stages for the EU Withdrawal Bill in the House of Lords and beyond

  • Second Reading: formally a two day debate Tuesday 30th & Wednesday 31st January, but with House business starting much earlier on both days (11am Tuesday, 10am Wednesday), this is effectively the equivalent of a three-day debate. As of today (26th January) the numbers of Peers signed up to speak is over 180, which could of course rise. Votes at Lords Second Reading are very rare but a backbench motion of regret has been tabled and may be pressed at the end of the debate.
  • Committee stage: 10 days on the floor of the House, possibly more, starting Wednesday 21st February followed by a series of Mondays and Wednesdays through until (at least) the Easter Recess. The Lords Public Bill Office is now giving advice on prospective Committee Stage amendments, but these can only be formally tabled following Second Reading. Amendments will not be made public until Friday 2nd February at the earliest. Votes at Committee have become rare over the past few years, with a mere 9 since the start of the 2012/3 parliamentary session – but these remain a possibility, not least given the nature of this legislation.
  • Report stage: to take place at some point beyond Easter recess. Report stage is when most votes happen in the Lords. If the Bill has 10 days in Committee, there would be an expectation of 5 days in Report; and for each extra day of Committee, a half-day of Report would follow, e.g. 11 days of Committee = 5 and half days report; 12 days of Committee = 6 days of Report. Lords votes (at any stage) are not scheduled in the same way as the Commons and take place following amendment debates, with most key divisions occurring between 4pm and 7.30pm.
  • Third Reading: this would take place at least one week after the end of Report stage and is currently anticipated for some point during May. Votes at this stage are possible, but most likely to be informed by how debates during the Report stage play out, e.g. if the government fails to deliver on a previously indicated concession.
  • Commons consideration of Lords amendments: whether government concessions (including those taking place between Committee and Report), minor technical changes or voted defeats, this stage of the Bill would be likely to happen soon after Lords Third Reading – with potential of course for parliamentary ping-pong.


Labour Lords frontbench approach

Having monitored proceedings in the Commons, the Labour Lords frontbench will now seek changes to the EU Withdrawal Bill during its passage through the Lords. Due to the nature of this Bill, our primary focus will be on a range of legal and technical issues.

Once tabling begins after Second Reading, the Labour Lords frontbench will be involved in supporting approximately twenty amendments. Below is a short explanatory note on our main priorities:

‘A meaningful role for Parliament at the end of the negotiations’:

  • While pleased by the addition of Conservative MP Dominic Grieve’s amendment to Clause 9 (making the use of powers in that Clause conditional on the passing of a statute on the terms of the withdrawal agreement), the Bill still doesn’t go far enough in giving Parliament a meaningful role in agreeing the outcomes of the negotiations.
  • We will therefore, seek to amend Clause 9 to formalise the Prime Minister’s stated commitment to hold a vote in the UK Parliament before the European Parliament decides whether or not to adopt the agreement.

‘Ensuring a role for Parliament in the event of no deal’: 

  • Although Dominic Grieve’s amendment was intended to formalise the government’s commitment to introduce a European Union (Withdrawal Agreement & Implementation) Bill, this legislation we are about to scrutinise currently affords no role to Parliament in the event of a ‘no deal’ outcome.
  • We will therefore, seek to amend Clause 14 to expand the definition of “withdrawal agreement” to include either a negotiated settlement or a failure to achieve a settlement. This will ensure powers delegated to Ministers under Clause 9 could not be used to prepare for no deal unless Parliament had approved this. 

‘Facilitating a time-limited transitional period on current terms’:

  • Concerns were expressed on all sides of the Commons that the Bill undermines the Prime Minister’s aim, as expressed in her Florence speech, to secure a time-limited transitional period beyond the end of the Article 50 negotiations in March 2019.
  • Labour has consistently called for a transitional period based on current terms (i.e. within the Single Market and Customs Union). Having failed to amend the Bill to this effect in the Commons, we will seek to amend the provisions around ‘exit day’ and postpone the curtailment of the Court of Justice of the European Union’s jurisdiction.

‘Enhanced protection for EU-derived rights and protections’: 

  • While Labour supports giving continuing legal effect to directly applicable EU law once the European Communities Act 1972 has been repealed, the government has not provided for enhanced protection for EU-derived rights for workers, consumers or the environment. As a result, key protections could be amended or revoked by statutory instrument, with Parliament having a limited role in scrutinising changes.
  • The Commons rejected Labour’s calls for such rights to be given an enhanced level of protection in UK law, although the government’s majority was reduced to just 12. We will seek to pass similar amendments and give MPs a further opportunity to reflect once more on what is a serious matter for many millions of people across the UK.

‘Limiting the scope of delegated (Henry VIII) powers’:

  • The Lords Constitution Committee’s interim report into Bill labels the proposed delegated powers “unprecedented and extraordinary”, noting that they “raise fundamental constitutional questions about the separation of powers between Parliament and Government.”
  • The Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee notes that the Bill “gives excessively wide law-making powers to Ministers, allowing them to make major changes beyond what is necessary to ensure UK law works properly when the UK leaves the EU.”
  • We will therefore, seek amendments to the Bill to prevent Ministers from making regulations where they deem it “appropriate” to do so. Instead, Ministers could only use their delegated powers in cases where it is “necessary” to achieve the aim of a functioning statute book on exit day.
  • In addition, we will seek to remove the ability of Ministers to establish public authorities, create criminal offences with sentences of up to two years, levy taxes and even amend the Bill itself by statutory instrument.

‘Removing the Government’s exit day’:

  • During Commons Committee stage, the government passed amendments to define ‘exit day’ throughout the Bill as ‘11pm on 29 March 2019’. This addition undermines a transitional period and would also make it illegal for the UK to extend the Article 50 negotiations by even a single minute – even if the EU27 unanimously agreed to do so.
  • We will therefore, seek amendments to reinstate the original provisions put forward by the government. These would allow Ministers to appoint different exit days for different purposes, including allowing a temporary extension of the European Court’s jurisdiction to facilitate a transitional period.



Shadow Leader of the Lords, Baroness (Angela) Smith of Basildon, who will open the second reading debate for Labour said: 

“We will work with others around the Lords to change this Bill so it becomes an enabling measure for rather than an obstacle to a transitional period, as is currently the case. This will include seeking amendments relating to 'exit day', ensuring the government cannot reduce rights via secondary legislation, and providing greater clarity about the role of the CJEU and the future status of its case law.

“Labour has consistently called for a transitional period based on current terms, including a temporary extension to our participation in the Single Market and Customs Union. This would prevent a cliff edge for consumers and businesses in March 2019, and provide additional time to finalise the future UK-EU relationship.” 

Shadow Brexit Minister, Baroness (Dianne) Hayter, who will close the second reading debate for Labour and lead for the party during the other Lords stages of the Bill said:

“I am looking forward to the second reading debate as it will give a clear indication to Ministers and outside observers alike of the strength of feeling within the House that this Bill is not fit for purpose. I also expect it to deal with some of the nonsense out there that the Lords will block or wreck the legislation.

“Our priority is to safeguard people’s rights with regard to consumer protections, employment and the environment, along with Parliament’s right over Ministers in the big decisions facing our country.

“While the government has already indicated it will bring forward amendments to some aspects of the Bill, there is clearly much more to be done and I hope my opposite number, Lord Callanan will respond to our scrutiny of this legislation in a much more considered way than he has with recent Brexit related debates in the House.” 

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