The new Withdrawal Agreement Bill

  • Posted

Traditionally, January is a time to dispense with the old and bring in the new. In 2020, this includes a new Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB).

There are some notable changes from the one which Theresa May tried, and failed, to push through on three occasions in 2019. Gone is the provision to incorporate all ECJ case law after Brexit. Under these terms, only the Supreme Court would have the power to override ECJ decisions. In the revised version, the new prime minister wants to hand that power to less senior UK Courts too.

Critics of the move, including senior judges, have raised concerns that it will create considerable legal uncertainty. They believe it has the potential to facilitate the rolling back of employment rights and environmental standards, although the government insists that its manifesto pledges will protect and enhance them through new UK legislation.

With the passing of the WAB all but a formality, attention will turn to the future relationship with the EU. The political landscape in which trade negotiations will be conducted is starkly different from the one in which provided the backdrop for Phase 1 talks. Emboldened by its newly secured and sizeable majority, the UK government will not countenance extending the transition period beyond the end of December 2020. However, the EU remains highly sceptical that a free trade agreement can be achieved within that timeframe.

With a majority of 80, the government also has greater confidence to pursue its preferred path in negotiations without fear of being railroaded by the ERG or the DUP. The Queen’s Speech, held in December, hinted as much with the announcement of the pledge to introduce a points-based immigration system aimed at encouraging the arrival of skilled workers from across the world. Also included was the intention to bring forward measures to encourage flexible working practices across the economy.

Early indications are that 2020 will see the legislative meat being added to the bones of Brexit and a clearer picture of what life beyond it will look like in the UK.