The EU Withdrawal Bill has passed. But what were the amendments, and what does this all mean for the future?
It's not every day you hear the Lib Dems singing the praises of the House of Lords. Whilst quickly overridden, this week the Lords orchestrated the first defeat of Johnson's new government. Or, more precisely, 5 defeats in the form of amendments added to the EU Withdrawal Agreement bill (WAB):
To provide EU nationals with a recognised hard copy of their settled status
This is a simple step which would safeguard EU citizens' rights. A physical copy may be needed, not just by the government but by other organisations a citizen would need to interact with such as employers, financial services and landlords. These don't appear to have access to the central database being created. How a settled EU national can easily prove their status to a private organisation remains unclear.
Protecting the rights of child refugees to move to the UK, where they have relatives legally resident
This amendment, put in place by a peer who fled to the UK as a child to escape the Nazis, compels the government to negotiate the placement of unaccompanied child refugees with the EU. Without this amendment, we simply have empty promises from a government which has persistently stuck its head in the sand over asylum seekers. This clause was in Teresa May's deal, and has been deliberately taken out during Johnson's renegotiations. One would have to say this speaks for itself.
Rejecting the power for ministers to direct how to proceed with EU court rulings,
Ensuring the Supreme Court can have a say in deciding if EU court rulings should be struck down
These amendments expose a sinister change to the constitution hidden in the WAB. With the original text intact the executive (ministers) can bypass previous decisions made by the judiciary (court), and the Supreme Court is left out of decisions on EU case law. It is a central tenet of our government that courts and parliament can scrutinise the actions of ministers. Reversing this direction is a worrying centralisation of powers.
It's no shock that the Johnson administration has unfinished business with the Supreme Court, and cutting them off from all things Brexit is both petty and a worrying sign of things to come. Hidden within the 2019 Tory manifesto is a vague and menacing sentence:
“After Brexit we also need to look at the broader aspects of our constitution: the relationship between the Government, Parliament and the courts; the functioning of the Royal Prerogative; the role of the House of Lords; and access to justice for ordinary people”
Those hoping this is a throwaway part of their manifesto would do well to note these changes are already happening, one month in, as part of the WAB.
A final amendment ensuring devolved matters be decided upon by devolved parliaments
This vote had the backdrop of symbolic rejections of the WAB by the Northern Ireland Assembly and Scottish Parliament. The Conservative and Unionist Party, it seems, has lost the support of the Union.
Brexit has now been enshrined in law. But the fight isn't over: the benefits of a close relationship with the EU are still as true as in 2016. We haven't entered the endgame of our relationship with the EU- this has just begun. And the Liberal Democrats are the largest national party committed to ensuring our close relationship with the EU remains.