What is the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill?
‘The Great Repeal Bill’ is designed to lay out the way in which EU law will be transferred into domestic law prior to March 2019, the deadline for the UK exiting. Section 3 (1) of the Bill states that ‘direct EU legislation, so far as operative immediately before exit day, forms part of domestic law on and after exit day’. This will not entrench EU law but rather aid the transition so that laws may be amended or repealed in a more leisurely and considered fashion. The Bill was successfully voted for on the second reading by a margin of 36 on the 12th of September. Whilst the Bill is clear in the delegated powers to be enjoyed by Ministers (an area of contention), the nature of the future relationship between the EU and UK remains ever elusive.
The Future Relationship
The oft talked of Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union outlines the EU withdrawal process. It states that ‘the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that [Member] State […] acting by a qualified majority’ whilst ‘the member of the European Council or of the Council representing the withdrawing Member State shall not participate in the discussions of the European Council or Council or in decisions concerning it’. Hence, it is likely that all remaining Member States will have to agree as a majority on the framework for a future EU-UK relationship. To ensure that the EU remains attractive to all current and potential Member States, any agreement could be restrictive with less benefits than enjoyed inside. However, it is also possible that they will want to keep a key trade ally close and subsequently limit any harsh effects of leaving to a minimum.
Sir Keir Starmer, Labour Shadow Secretary of State for Brexit, argued that “the proposition that third-party trade deals are going to be immediately available and will compensate for any loss of trade with the EU is an untested proposition.” There is neither solid evidence that the UK would gain greater prosperity outside of trading with the EU nor that other countries would be willing to forge deals in the best interests of the UK. One only has to look at Norway to bear witness to how a future trade relationship for the UK could successfully work once membership has been finally ended. Norway is a member of the European Economic Area (EEA) but does not have EU membership. The UK is already part of the EEA, thus easing the transitionary period if it were to take this route. Furthermore, the EEA allows deals to be garnered with countries outside of the EU. However, this could be a less than ideal solution for those who voted leave, urged on by a motivation to regain national control. Remaining within the EEA will not escape European rules and regulations.
In Sir Keir’s view, the UK would have to forge a deal with a “major bloc” to negate the loss of EU trade. As this may take a lot longer than six months, the “primary focus” should now be on “getting the deal with Europe right” as soon as possible to provide reassurance. It is indeed important that as the clock starts ticking on the UK saying its final goodbyes, necessary deals are firmly in place whether with or without the EU. Certainty equals stability.