Hywel Williams MP, Plaid Cymru’s Brexit Spokesperson
The UK Government has managed to get the Repeal Bill through its Second Reading. In its first parliamentary test, the Bill passed by 36 votes.
But Ministers cannot afford to relax over the conference recess in the knowledge that the Bill is safely through to Committee Stage. There’s a long, long way to go before the Bill reaches the statute book and keeping a working majority over the next few months is going to be an immensely difficult task for the UK Government.
The debate last week lasted well into the night, with several Conservative backbenchers voicing concerns over aspects of the Bill. There is strong speculation that these concerns are shared by at least a dozen Conservative MPs, including four influential chairs of Westminster committees.
Indeed, 59 pages of amendments were tabled by MPs across the party political divide at 1am straight after the vote.
One of the first in the queue was Liz Saville Roberts MP, Plaid Cymru’s Westminster Group Leader.
Plaid Cymru has, from the very beginning, been vocal in its opposition to the Bill. It undermines devolution, fails to allow for accession into the single market and customs union, fails to give any clarity on the future role of EU Agencies and gives government ministers the ability to amend and repeal law with impunity.
When the Bill was published before summer, we immediately tabled a reasoned amendment listing those red lines as reasons why we couldn’t support the Bill. Both Liz and I spoke during the Second Reading debates and communicated our discontent with the way the UK Government is driving through a damaging Brexit and rolling back devolution as voted for in two referenda.
We have now turned our energy to the Committee Stage, of which there will be eight days of scrutiny. As already noted our first batch of amendments was tabled immediately, giving us prominence in the Notices of Amendments paper.
Our 15 amendments focus on our core concerns as outlined in our reasoned amendment. We already have the backing of the SNP and the Green Party and we are open to working alongside any likeminded MPs who share our concerns.
Single Market and Customs Union
We propose to amend Section 1 and 19 of the Bill to make the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972 on exit day conditional on the Prime Minister reaching an agreement for the United Kingdom to remain a member of the EEA and Customs Union. Plaid Cymru has been clear and consistent in its position that remaining within the Single Market and Customs Union provides for the least damaging Brexit possible for jobs and wages in Wales. 200,000 job rely on our trade with the EU and it is vital that those jobs are protected.
Plaid Cymru has been clear and consistent in its position that remaining within the Single Market and Customs Union provides for the least damaging Brexit possible for jobs and wages in Wales. 200,000 job rely on our trade with the EU and it is vital that those jobs are protected.
Consent from the devolved legislatures
We have also laid an amendment to Section 1 and 19 of the Bill to make the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972 on exit day conditional on the Prime Minister gaining consent from the devolved legislatures.
The UK Government has indicated that they will seek legislative consent from the devolved legislatures. But the Sewel Convention, as it is called, is not legally binding, meaning that the UK Government can press ahead with legislation impacting on devolved competencies regardless of whether or not consent has been granted by the devolved legislatures.
Our amendment attempts to put the Sewel Convention into law in relation to this Bill. This will become ever more significant as it becomes increasingly likely that the National Assembly for Wales and the Scottish Parliament will not vote to give consent.
A further amendment to Section 2 and 11 proposes to remove the restrictions placed on the National Assembly for Wales in the Bill on modifying retained EU law except in relation to matters that are reserved.
The Bill as it stands over-rides the devolution settlement and amends the Government of Wales Act 2006 to grant Westminster the power over areas of devolved competency, as defined in the Wales Act 2017.
We want to alter the definition of EU retained law in the Bill so as only to include reserved areas of legislation. This will allow the National Assembly for Wales and the other devolved administrations to legislate for themselves on areas of EU derived law which fall under devolved competency.
This is significant in so far as it would require the National Assembly for Wales to fast track an EU Continuity Bill for Wales which would enshrine in Welsh law all EU law – something Plaid Cymru has been pioneering as an important way of protecting advancements in Wales on a range of policy areas from children’s rights to environmental law.
Not a penny less
We seek to amend the commencement clause so as to require the UK Government to lay a report before the National Assembly for Wales outlining the effect of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU on Welsh finances, before exercising the power under Section 1.
This would allow for scrutiny of the Leave Campaign’s promise to maintain current levels of EU funding for Wales. Wales is a net beneficiary of EU membership to the tune of £245 million a year. It is vital Wales does not miss out on this funding.
This amendment prevents Ministers of the Crown from being able to replace, abolish or modify the functions of EU Agencies in Section 7 of the Bill without laying impact assessments on its effect before both Houses of Parliament.
We are concerned that the Bill gives Ministers the authority to abolish the functions of these EU entities, putting our regulatory standards and safety at risk. These entities assist with a wide range of all-encompassing issues from cross-border security to food safety. It is proper that Ministers lay the consequences of altering those entities before Parliament, before embarking on any alterations which could be damaging to the Welsh public.
Henry VIII powers
This amendment prevents Ministers of the Crown from making regulations under the powers in Section 7 that apply to Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland other than in relation to reserved (or, in the case of Northern Ireland, excepted and reserved) matters.
We take issue with Ministers of the Crown being able to amend, repeal or modify legislation without scrutiny or votes in general, but it is completely unacceptable for them to be able to do so in areas which fall directly under the devolved competence of the National Assembly for Wales.
This first batch of amendments address some of the more glaring faults of the Bill. We will be seeking support from other parties to force the government to yield on key elements. However a government properly sensible of its minority status would of its own volition seek to meet our concerns. So far the May government has shown little of such self-awareness.