Key developments in March included the government triggering Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union and publication of the government’s White Paper: Legislating for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union.
Government triggers Article 50
On 29 March 2017, the government gave the European Council formal notification of the UK’s intention to leave the EU, triggering Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union and starting the countdown to Brexit. The Prime Minister’s letter triggering Article 50 sets out the government’s approach to the discussions about the UK’s exit from the EU and the UK’s future partnership with the EU after Brexit.
The European Council subsequently published draft Negotiation Guidelines for the EU 27. The European Council will adopt the Negotiation Guidelines at a summit of the EU 27 on 29 April 2017.
White Paper on Legislating for the United Kingdom’s Withdrawal from the European Union published
The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union presented the government’s White Paper: Legislating for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union to Parliament on 30 March. The White Paper provides an overview of the government’s intentions for the effects of the forthcoming Great Repeal Bill (GRB), in particular that it will repeal the European Communities Act 1972 and convert EU law into UK law as it stands at the moment of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, wherever practical.
Earlier in the month, the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution published a report on the GRB and delegated powers. The report highlights the scale of the legal preparations that are required in advance of Brexit to ensure a “massive transfer of legal competence” from Parliament to the government. Importing such a large body of law through the use of delegated legislation creates what the committee recognises as “constitutional concerns of a fundamental nature”.
The Institute for Government (IFG) also published a report on the GRB and the wider legislative challenge. The report analyses the prospective roles of the government and Parliament, and the risks facing each, in the legislative process arising from Britain’s exit from the European Union. IFG’s report suggests that the legislative challenge facing Parliament may amount to “10 to 15 new bills and thousands of pages of secondary legislation before the Article 50 process is complete”, to ensure the UK is prepared to leave the EU.
International trade post-Brexit
Several reports on the potential impact of Brexit on trade were published in March, including:
- The House of Commons International Trade Committee report on UK international trade after Brexit. The report considers the UK’s relationship with the World Trade Organization (WTO), the free trade agreement (FTA), which the government intends to agree with the EU, the implications of the UK trading with the EU under WTO rules in the absence of any agreement, and the UK’s future trading relationship with non-EU countries.
- The House of Lords European Union Committee report on the potential effect of Brexit on trade in goods between the UK and the EU. The report considers the effect of trade under a FTA and under WTO rules on six major manufacturing and primary commodities sectors.
- The House of Lords EU Committee report on Brexit and trade in non-financial services, which looks at the digital and creative sectors, including broadcasting, telecoms, intellectual property and data protection issues. The report also examines what a “good” FTA would look like, and the implications of no FTA deal being struck and having to fall back on WTO rules.
Implications for civil justice
Towards the end of the month, the House of Commons Justice Committee published a report on the implications of Brexit for criminal justice, civil law and the legal services sector. The report considers the importance for commercial law of the Recast Brussels Regulation, which regulates jurisdiction and enforcement of judgments across EU member states, and stresses that protecting the UK as a “top-class commercial law centre” should be a “major priority”. It recommends that the government should aim to replicate the Recast Brussels Regulation.
A report by the House of Lords EU Justice Sub-Committee also calls on the government to publish, as a matter of urgency, a coherent plan for addressing the post-Brexit application of various EU instruments, including the Recast Brussels Regulation.
Discrimination and equalities protections
In early March, the Women and Equalities Committee published a report on ensuring strong discrimination and equalities protection once the UK leaves the European Union. Proposals include enabling Parliament and the courts to make declarations that legislation is compatible (or incompatible) with the Equality Act 2010, and that the GRB should include an explicit commitment to maintain existing levels of protection and should clarify the status of future ECJ judgments on discrimination law.
Updated Practical Law Brexit page
To help you keep up to date with developments as they unfold, you can find the latest current awareness updates (an RSS feed is now available), trackers and timeline on our updated Practical Law Brexit page. The page includes a selection of resources on the legal implications of Brexit in a range of areas, together with maintained content on the Article 50 process, the practice of law in the EU after Brexit and international trade content.