A policy update by Dr Tatum Matharu, Policy and Parliamentary Lead.
Parliament returned from its summer recess with its ayes on Brexit. The EU Withdrawal Bill, commonly known as the ‘Repeal Bill’ (and formerly known as the ‘Great Repeal Bill’), had its second reading in the Commons on the 7th September and on the 11th, despite grumbles from within the party of Government and a three-line whip by the Opposition, it passed by 36 votes onto the committee stage, during which MPs will have just eight days of scrutiny.
It is noteworthy that the European Communities Act 1972, which took us into what became the EU, and the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993, which formalised the Treaty of the EU (a.k.a. the ‘the Maastricht Treaty’) into UK law, had 22 and 23 days at committee stage respectively. It seems, therefore, that there’s a relatively tight timeframe to influence MPs in their debates and potential amendments to the Bill, but we struck while the iron was hot. Collaborating with a number of our Licensed Bodies over the summer, we organised our concerns into a briefing hitting the desks of key ministers (Michael Gove at DEFRA and David Davis and Robin Walker at DExEU) as well as every single MP ahead of the vote. Read more, including the briefing and its media coverage, here.
It’s widely understood that hundreds of amendments are being suggested and circulated amongst MPs for support, so much so that the Bill’s return to Parliament for its committee stage (previously thought to be this week) has now been delayed. Like much else about Brexit, there is a huge degree of uncertainty and a whole lot of watching and waiting for signals that may help strategically to steer a course for sharing environmentalists’ concerns about what happen after Brexit.
However, who or what to influence is arguably more readily understandable as we can more safely assume that, given our situation of minority government, there are significant opportunities to bring our collective expertise to bear on the full range of parliamentary avenues. Backbench MPs, opposition parties and various committees and groups in both Houses are now extraordinarily significant, as is working in partnership. Indeed, we have recently sent our briefing to a House of Lords select committee that had called for evidence regarding the constitutional implications of the Bill, and we plan to target Peers with our briefing once we have a clearer idea of when the Bill will enter the upper chamber’s debate and scrutiny processes.
At the same time, it is necessary to keep things in perspective. It is easy to think the Repeal Bill is the only game in town but, whilst it sets up the processes and procedures for our post-Brexit work, the implications of Brexit will be felt in a range of different policy areas as well as the connections between them. It is important for the Society to channel the collective expertise of our registrants to such debates, as we did, for example, by joining a recent discussion hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology on their report regarding the impact of new trade agreements on sustainable food and farming. We will continue to work in such fora and, as ever, we invite your contributions so please do get in touch with me directly if you would like to become more involved.