UK agriculture and fisheries sectors face heightened Brexit uncertainty

12 August 2019 2:54pm

5 August 2019, by Matthew Holehouse

UK farmers and fishermen exposed to a no-deal Brexit face heightened uncertainty after Boris Johnson’s office said he would push ahead with the planned Oct. 31 departure without key domestic legislation in place.

Six “enabling” bills, intended to hand responsibility to the UK state for areas of the British economy currently subject to EU rulemaking, are not “needed” for Brexit to go ahead at the end of October, the prime minister’s spokesman said today at a press briefing.

“The UK will be leaving the EU on Oct. 31, whatever the circumstances. There are no ifs or buts,” said James Slack. “Politicians cannot choose what votes to respect. They promised to respect the referendum result and we must do so.”

“None of the exit bills currently before parliament are needed ahead of exit day in the event that we leave without an agreement,” he said.

The government hasn’t published a comprehensive analysis of the impact of exiting the EU without the new legislation in place. But it presents the clear risk of the government being unable to exercise certain basic functions.

It also would see the UK government continue to be bound under domestic law to deliver certain obligations of EU membership, even when the EU treaties had fallen away.

Theresa May, Johnson’s predecessor, announced eight bills in July 2017 to prepare the statute book for exit day. More were announced when the scale of the task of patching holes in UK law left by a rupture from the EU’s legal system became clear.

In addition, around 500 pieces of secondary legislation made under the EU Withdrawal Act, covering amendments to regulatory regimes, have been pushed through parliament.

But progress on the primary legislation ground to a halt after lawmakers launched a concerted cross-party bid to halt a no-deal exit from the EU. Johnson’s team are reluctant to bring anything before parliament that could be amended to bind the government’s hands.

That has left a backlog. Primary legislation still going through the scrutiny and approval process includes the Trade Bill; the Agriculture Bill; the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination Bill; the Fisheries Bill; the Environmental Principles and Governance Bill; and the Financial Services Bill.

Appearing before lawmakers in February, the head of the UK civil service Mark Sedwill said that failure to pass the “stalled” legislation would result in “gaps” in the statute book. “We need the legislation through,” he said.

In some areas, the civil service has been able to draw up “elaborate” contingency measures,” he said. “But in some cases, they simply say that no mitigation is possible because without the legislation there is not the legal process."

The Fisheries Bill would give the UK government the power to regulate activity in UK waters. It will revoke the EU-derived obligations in domestic law for the UK government to give “equal access” to European vessels, and for future fishing opportunities to be subject to subsequent international agreements.

Similarly, the Immigration Bill is intended to revoke a number of pieces of legislation in domestic law implementing EU free movement, and allow the UK to modify retained EU rules on welfare coordination.

The Trade Bill was intended to give statutory footing to the UK’s new Trade Remedies Authority, which recommends antidumping measures, and to implement the UK’s obligations under the WTO’s Government Procurement Agreement.

The Agriculture Bill will give the UK government the powers to administer a system of farm-support payments.

A number of other pieces of primary legislation, replicating EU powers over sanctions, nuclear energy regulation and customs, have been passed by parliament and will take effect after the UK leaves the EU.

Brexit Special Report