The Withdrawal Bill has completed its passage through the Commons this week. Yesterday, First reading in the Lords took place (usually a formality, without debate). With over 89 peers putting their name down to speak at Second reading, we expect they will put up a fight. Some peers are also already indicating they will add amendments to the bill.

In other news, the Alliance will be speaking about the Withdrawal Bill at the Gathering (the largest free third sector in the UK) in Scotland, click here to attend. 

MPs reject to keep the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in the bill  
While MPs across parties addressed concerns about the loss of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, the amendment tabled by Labour to keep the Charter in the bill was rejected by 317 to 299 votes. The message from the Tory rebels was that, whilst not entirely happy with the bill, they would not support any amendments tabled by opposition members and are looking now to the Lords to deal with deficiencies.

On behalf of the Government, Robert Buckland addressed those concerns saying that the bill does not aim to make changes to policy, the Charter was “never intended to bestow new rights” but to “reaffirm” rights that EU citizens already enjoy and that therefore incorporating the Charter would “sow potential confusion”. 

The legal opinion obtained by EHRC (Equality and Human Rights Commission) contradicts Buckland’s argument however, which explicitly states that “contrary to the Government’s analysis, the Charter has created valuable new rights, and extended the scope of existing rights, and could continue to do so if Charter provisions were incorporated into domestic law”.   

We were not expecting big wins at Report, but we fully expect that peers will look in detail on how to protect our rights whether that's through the Charter or other ways.

Scottish Tories vote with Government on Clause 11  
Last week, the Government delayed its promises to amend aspects of the Bill concerning devolution (principally clause 11). Concerns about the deficiencies of Clause 11 (see herefor our concerns around devolution issues) are now widely shared and were raised again during Report, particularly by Welsh and Scottish MPs like Stephen Doughty, Anna McMorrin and Joanna Cherry. 

While Scottish Tories critiqued amendments to Clause 11 tabled by opposition members, their concerns and disappointment about the delay remain- Stephen Kerr, for instance, said: “no one is more disappointed and frustrated than I am that we do now have these amendments”. The view of the Scottish Tories that emerged during Report is that there needs to be an agreement between the UK Government and the devolved administrations, before replacing or amending clause 11. 

Speaking on behalf of the Government, David Lidington repeated its promises to bring forward amendments to clause 11 in the House of Lords and that discussions with devolved administrations will take place.

On the basis that the Withdrawal Bill is not yet amended to protect devolution settlements, the Welsh Assembly has unanimously backed a motion, calling on the Welsh Government to push ahead immediately with the publication of a continuity bill. Much like the Withdrawal Bill, a continuity bill would identify categories of EU laws to incorporate into devolved law. 

Environmental protections in the bill
Caroline Lucas (Green) repeated Alliance members concerns about avoiding an environmental governance gap in the bill- pointing out that while Gove’s animal welfare bill is welcome, there no certainty that this bill will reach the statue book before exit day. Given that Lucas’ amendments to deal with the governance gap and animal sentience were were rejected in the Commons, the next crucial steps is to keep addressing those concerns to peers.   

Malene Bratlie