Brexit: How to follow the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – a practical guide and introduction

12th September 2017

Last night the House of Commons voted on the “second reading” on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.  This is a general vote on the principle of the legislation.

MPs voted in favour of the Bill, and it now will be considered in committee where the clauses will be examined and amendments considered.

You can follow the Bill as follows.

First: you should look at (and perhaps even bookmark) this page on the parliament site.  This will show the progress of the Bill and will link to parliamentary materials.

Then: read the Bill – it is a short Bill, with only 19 clauses in its initial (vanilla) form (here).  It is worth reading these 19 clauses.  You will then see what much of the fuss is about.

The schedules (lawyers usually say it with a “sh” when talking about legal instruments) are more substantial, but the effect of the schedules is provided for by the operative clauses.  The schedules “hang below” the relevant clauses, so to speak.  One key schedule is Schedule 7, which provides (supposed) safeguards on the proposed wide discretionary law-making powers for ministers.

You can then look at the Explanatory Notes (here).  These are not part of the Bill but are a guide to what is intended by the government by each clause.  Only a mad person reads these like a novel from beginning to end. Instead, focus on a clause or a schedule and cross refer, as necessary.  In other words, treat explanatory notes like a series of footnotes.

(Some may say that the less clear a Bill the longer the Explanatory Notes, and that clear legislation should not need no explanatory notes. And they would have a point.)

There is also, for completists, a 58-page Delegated Powers Memorandum (here). This should only be looked at if you have a serious interest in the delegated powers. It is heavy duty stuff.

The House of Commons Library (an excellent group of people and an adornment to our constitution) has provided a research briefing on the Bill. This is an essential resource,

The briefing is at the link at the bottom here.  This briefing is, in general, your best and most impartial guide to the Bill.  Read the introduction and general sections, though (as with he Explanatory Notes) use the detailed comments as footnotes when looking at individual clauses.

It is worth checking with the House of Commons Library research briefings page from time to time to see if there is any further briefing as the Bill progresses.

As for informed commentary, you should keep looking at the blog of the estimable Professor Mark Elliott.  He is not only a leading legal blogger, he happens to be one of the UK’s leading experts on constitutional law and is legal adviser to the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution.  His Twitter account is here.

Any useful commentary will be linked to on his special and regularly updated resources page on the Bill.

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