The Withdrawal Bill kicks off in committee stage

Malene Bratlie is an intern for the Repeal Bill Alliance team.

The EU (Withdrawal) Bill - formerly known as the ‘Great Repeal Bill’ - is the first major piece of Brexit legislation. On Tuesday 14th, it goes before the House of Commons for the first of eight days of debate known as the Committee Stage stage. Unlock Democracy has been at the heart of calling for change to the bill that’s sparked controversy across the political spectrum and civil society.

The Repeal Bill Alliance

Unlock Democracy has been busy since August coordinating the Repeal Bill Alliance - a group of over 70 organisations from across civil society. We have joined forces to call on the government to ensure the Withdrawal Bill does not mean  a power grab by ministers or sidelining the devolved nations.The Alliance is Brexit neutral, taking no position on the outcome of the referendum.

What’s the Alliance doing about the bill?

The Alliance is doing a range of things to push for the best possible outcome of the bill. For instance, we've been working with charities and other bodies in Wales, making sure that the voices of people in the devolved nations aren't forgotten in Westminster, as they so frequently are. People we’ve spoken to in Wales are concerned about the broad powers the bill gives to ministers, as well as its possible impact on devolution, such as the Government’s decision to ‘’freeze’’ devolved nations ability to create new agricultural, fisheries or regional policies.

We’re also writing a Withdrawal Bill campaigns toolkit to help organisations campaign on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. The Alliance is also providing regular updates on the progress of the bill, which you can sign up to receive here.  

Through the Alliance, Unlock Democracy has worked with organisations working on all kinds of issues. We’ve shared knowledge and created a bigger platform to engage with MPs. We’ve held briefing meetings to inform parliamentarians with Alliance members, who have been at the heart calling for change to the bill. By bringing civil society together, we’ve become a strong collective voice when it comes to pushing for the changes we want to see in the Withdrawal Bill. We want to make sure that the government remains faithful to the principle of taking back control and make sure that control truly does reside with Parliament. There must be robust parliamentary scrutiny and safeguards against transfer of power to the Executive. More details on the changes the Alliance want to see can be found here.  

What’s Committee Stage?

This week the Withdrawal Bill kicks off its journey through Committee Stage, so here’s an explainer about what Committee Stage actually is:  

  • This is where a bill is examined clause by clause.

  • In the Commons, this process is normally carried out by a cross-party committee of MPs (a Public Bill Committee). Alternatively, if a bill is constitutionally important, a Committee of the Whole House may be convened. This is what’s happening with the EU (Withdrawal) Bill.

  • A Committee of the Whole House takes place on the floor of the House of Commons. Every MP is able to take part and vote.

What’s going to be debated?

Day 1 and 2 of Committee Stage for the bill are coming up this week, kicking off  on Tuesday 14th November. On day 1 and 2, MPs will debate new clauses and amendments relating to:

  • the end of supremacy of EU law in domestic law,

  • how EU law should be interpreted by UK courts after exit day, and

  • how EU laws, rights and obligations should be preserved in the UK statute book.

What will happen during the other 6 days of committee stage have still not been announced. It is still possible for the bill to complete all its stages in the House of Commons before Christmas but it is getting tight.

How are New Clauses and Amendments picked for debate?

The number of new clauses and amendments tabled now stands at over 450. You don’t need to have a maths degree to work out that debating all of these in just 8 days is impossible. Given the eye-watering number of new Clauses and Amendments and the limited parliamentary time available for debating and voting, some New Clauses and Amendments will have to be pruned. They will either get dropped or withdrawn.

This task falls to the Chairman of Ways and Means (Lindsay Hoyle MP), who selects which New Clauses and Amendments will be debated. To ensure that debate in Committee is focused and does not repeat itself, related New Clauses and Amendments are divided into subject groups and debated together. The lead amendment of each group is always voted on.

What can we expect from the start of Committee Stage?

Day 1 and 2 of Committee Stage will be a test for the government. The government will rely on all Conservative and DUP MPs both being in the house for those vital all night sessions, as well as voting the way the government wants them to.

Whether the Government will be confronted with a defeat remains to be seen. Caving into the pressure from their own rebelling MPs, the Government has attempted to make some concessions, by offering MPs a final vote on the Brexit deal. However, rather than offering a vote which could halt the Brexit negotiations, or have the deal renegotiated, this vote will be a ‘take it or leave vote’. The UK will still leave the EU on 29 March 2019.  The concession failed to win over the Tory rebels, who said the vote would not guarantee that Parliament have the vote before we actually leave and that it fails to deal with the broad, ill-defined powers given to ministers.

Follow the Repeal Bill Alliance on Twitter for rolling updates from the Committee Stage.