Brexit-dominated Queen's Speech signals start of 'fraught' parliament, says expert

Out-Law News | 21 Jun 2017 | 6:00 pm | 2 min. read

The government intends to pass at least eight separate pieces of legislation in the run-up to the UK's departure from the European Union, to ensure that the country "makes a success of Brexit".

The plans include a 'Repeal Bill', which would repeal the 1972 European Communities Act and convert all EU laws applicable to the UK into domestic law at the point of Brexit and not before, as well as creating temporary powers for parliament to amend the statute book through secondary legislation where existing provision is inconsistent with the act of leaving the EU. Separate bills would establish new national policies on immigration, international sanctions, nuclear safeguards, agriculture and fisheries.

A total of 27 pieces of planned legislation were included in the 'Queen's Speech', marking the state opening of parliament. As previously announced, this parliamentary session will last for two years instead of the usual one. The contents of the Queen Speech will be subject to a vote in parliament, which is due to take place next week.

Parliamentary agent and government affairs expert Richard Bull of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that the "pared down ceremonial" accompanying the speech reflected "the pared down content of the legislative programme for the next two years".

"As expected, Brexit dominates with eight bills providing for the transfer of sovereignty from the EU to the UK," he said. "These measures could prove highly controversial. Scotland is likely to have concerns about provisions in the Fisheries Bill to enable the UK to regain control of access to its waters: fisheries are in the competence of the Scottish Parliament.  The Repeal Bill may also require the legislative consent of the Scottish Parliament."

He added: "One obscure measure, the EU (Approvals) Bill, is a reminder that the UK remains a full member of the EU until at least 29 March 2019. The bill implements an EU Council decision to allow Albania and Serbia to have 'observer' status at the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency. The government is unlikely to draw much attention to this obscure bill."

The Customs Bill proposed in the speech would ensure that the UK has its own standalone customs regime at the point of Brexit, with the flexibility to accommodate future trade agreements with the EU and other countries. It would also allow for the creation of standalone UK regimes on VAT and excise duties. The Trade Bill would allow the UK to operate its own independent trade policy at the point of Brexit, while the Immigration Bill would allow the government to repeal EU immigration law and make EU migration subject to UK rules once the UK has left the EU.

The Fisheries Bill would allow the UK to exercise responsibility for access to UK fisheries and management of UK waters, while the Agriculture Bill would put in place an "effective system" to support UK farmers and protect the natural environment. The Nuclear Safeguards Bill would establish a UK nuclear safeguards regime in line with international commitments, while the International Sanctions Bill would establish a new sovereign UK framework to implement international sanctions and return decision-making powers on non-UN sanctions to the UK.

On domestic matters, the government's agenda is "dry, if not arid", said Richard Bull. Planned legislation includes measures to modernise the courts system and tackle motor insurance claims; data protection reforms and a new 'Digital Charter'; a ban on unfair tenant fees and further housing market reforms; and measures to ensure that the UK remains a "world leader" in new industries including electric cars and commercial satellites. Legislation will also be brought forward to deliver the next phase of high-speed rail.

"With a price tag of £3.5 billion, the Queen confirmed that the Fradley to Crewe element of HS2 will come before parliament," said Richard Bull. "No mention, however, was made of Crossrail 2, which featured in last year's speech."

"This parliamentary session is likely to be as fraught as that of 1992/93, when a government with a small majority faced enormous difficulty in getting the Maastricht Treaty through parliament. It did so only by threatening a dissolution. Ministers will be keen to avoid such an outcome," he said.