Thursday, 30 January 2020

The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020


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Jane Lambert

The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 received royal assent on 23 Jan 2020 and is now law. Its purpose is "to implement, and make other provision in connection with, the agreement between the United Kingdom and the EU under Article 50 (2) of the Treaty on European Union which sets out the arrangements for the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the EU". It consists of 42 sections divided into 5 parts with 5 schedules.

It will be recalled that the withdrawal agreement addresses citizen's rights, the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic and the United Kingdom's contribution to the EU budget.  It also provides for an implementation period during which time the UK remains a member of the customs union and single market but ceases to be part of the EU. Accordingly, EU law continues to apply to the UK even though HM government will have ceased to be represented on the European Council and there will be no members of the European Parliament from the UK. The agreement is accompanied by the political declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom.  The implementation period was intended to run from 29 March 2019 until 31 Dec 2020 but as the date of the UK's departure has been extended three times it will now last 11 months from 31 Jan to 31 Dec 2020.

Part 1 of the Act amends the European Union Withdrawal Act 2918 by inserting three new sections and one new Part into Schedule 2 of the 2018 Act.  Those new sections are s.1A which suspends the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972 during the implementation period, s.1B which makes further provision for the preservation of EU law during that period, and s.8A which enables ministers to make regulations to modify EU legislation after the end of the implementation period.  The new Part 1A confers a similar power on the devolved authorities which will apply two years after the end of the implementation period. 

S.5 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 inserts a new s.7A into the European Union Withdrawal Act 2018 which transposes the provisions of the withdrawal agreement into English and Welsh, Scots and Northern Irish law.  S.6 inserts a new s.7B which makes similar provision in relation to agreements with Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway and Switzerland on the UK's withdrawal from the European Economic Area.

Part 3 of the Act (s.7 to s.17) deals with citizens' rights.  S.18 inserts a new s.8B into the European Union Withdrawal Act 2020 which allows ministers to make further regulations in relation to separation issues.  S.20 provides for the funding of the UK's contribution to the EU budget.  S.21 inserts a new s.8C and s.22 a new Part 1C into Schedule 2 of the European Union Withdrawal Act 2018 to implement the protocol on Northern Ireland in the withdrawal agreement.   S.23 and Schedule 3 continues the safeguards in the Belfast Agreement. S.24  continues cooperation between the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland.

Perhaps the most important of the remaining provisions of the act is s.33 which inserts a new s.15A into the European Union Withdrawal Act 2020 preventing ministers from agreeing to extensions of the implementation period.  Any such extension will, therefore, require primary legislation which should not be a problem given the government's commanding majority in the House of Commons.

Anybody wishing to discuss this article or the UK's withdrawal from the EU generally may call me on 020 7404 5252 during office hours or message me through my contact form.

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