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10th October 2018

BREXIT – Like good comedy, it is all in the timing

Will the UK government and the EU reach terms on a ‘deal’ or not? If they do, will the UK Parliament approve or reject it? What happens then, as the exit date of 29 March 2019 accelerates towards us? Plenty of awkward moments ahead I venture. For the moment however, let us imagine a deal being reached and what the timetable ahead for the legislation might look like in that event, as we reach out for certainty.
The starting point is the key documentation involved. This is likely to comprise:-

  • The ‘Withdrawal Agreement’ itself – The exit terms agreed with the EU : an international treaty which will cover amongst other matters, terms agreed on ‘citizens’ rights’, the terms of separation and transition (including areas of continuing cooperation), the financial provisions and what is agreed on the knotty question of the Northern Ireland ‘backstop’ (a Protocol).
  • The Political Declaration – This will paint a picture of the relationship between the UK and the EU after the expiry of the planned ‘Transition Period’ on 31 December 2020.
  • The ‘EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill’ – This is the proposed legislation to implement the Withdrawal Agreement.
  • An Explanatory Statement by the Government – This should be a distillation of the thinking behind and effect of the legislation.

So, assuming a deal is agreed this month (the EU Council meeting is on the 18th October), what next in the UK Parliamentary procedure?

Shall we say, ducks will be firmly in a row by mid-November? Between then and the beginning of December 2018, we might expect the Withdrawal Agreement and Bill, Political Declaration and Government statement to be laid before both Houses of Parliament. The Bill and Declaration will then be debated in the House of Commons, leading to a Commons decision on the Government’s motion.

Let’s say, around 10 December the Bill goes to its second reading in the House of Commons. A week later, the Committee stage begins, which could take us through to Christmas before it clears the Commons.

By January 2019, the Bill could go to its second reading in the House of Lords. This will be followed by the Committee stage in the Lords and remaining stages in the upper House, taking us through to the end of the month. This would leave February 2019 for ‘ping-pong’ (the process by which the amended legislation travels between the Houses before coming to rest in the Commons), leading ultimately to Royal Assent, ahead of Exit day on 29 March.

So, it is doable. Tight, but doable. Of course, this assumes a deal and then smooth passage. It also assumes that what needs to be done and cleared in the remaining 27 EU member states is done and cleared.

There is much we can expect to pass ‘tween cup and lip.


Dominic Hopkins is head of Disputes and Litigation at Hewitsons and an Associate Member of the UK Constitutional Law Association. For more information please contact Dominic on 01604 233233 or click here to email Dominic.
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