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The Withdrawal Bill: Why our voices must be heard

It seems that the only game in town at the moment is Brexit. One could forgive people for getting a little tired of this occupying so much political space. The thing is, this IS really important and although the EU (Withdrawal) Bill sounds as though it could be the driest piece of legislation on this earth, it is in fact of the most fundamental importance.

October 2017

This is the most significant and complex piece of legislation for over 40 years. But it could also be an opportunity - an opportunity to strengthen our governance, to restore public confidence in our political institutions and in particular demonstrate that Westminster and Whitehall are responsive to the public they serve.

This bill will repeal the 1972 European Communities Act, which took Britain into the EU, and will end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. All existing EU legislation will be copied across into domestic UK law to ensure a smooth transition on the day after Brexit.

On the day the bill was published concerns were expressed across the political spectrum and civil society. Apprehensions range from the possibility of a reduction in rights and protections in the UK to the ability of parliamentarians to actually do their job of holding the Executive to account.

Environmental protections in particular are vulnerable to falling off a cliff, especially if the role of the precautionary principle is not enshrined and upheld in UK law. It is EU Institutions that have played a significant role as enforcers and ensuring compliance (for example with air quality) and yet there is no guarantee these enforcement mechanisms will continue in the UK. And the status of directives that have arisen from EU case law remains unclear.

In response to the bill, we have created a loose alliance of civic society made up of large and small campaign and advocacy organisations covering sectors as diverse as human rights, the environment, equality, democracy, food, farming, trade, consumer and workers rights and further education. All want to ensure their individual and collective voices are heard, and get the best possible outcomes for their organisations and members.

The alliance takes no view per se on the referendum or on Brexit. Its role and purpose is to ensure that civil society organisations understand the process and what is entailed as we leave the EU, and for the sectors to be in the best possible position to advocate and articulate their interests.

The focus is on process - not politics - and lies around open accountable law making - democratic processes based on robust parliamentary scrutiny and safeguards against transfer of power to the executive - and a high standards UK. In other words, ensuring that as EU law is transposed into UK law standards from air quality to equality protections are maintained.

It is also important that hard won devolution deals are protected, respecting current governance arrangements and ensuring that there is no loss of existing powers, roles and responsibilities.

Currently, the alliance is looking at all the proposed amendments and coalescing around those amendments that best support our aims and asks, as well as work around engagement and information for civic society groups.

It is vital for voices to be heard. We are encouraging everyone to get involved. To find out more about the alliance, our supporters (a number of grant-making Trusts and Foundations are funding this) and our asks, please visit the website.

Jane Thomas

Repeal Bill Coordinator, Unlock Democracy

Follow @UnlockDemocracy

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author’s and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.