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Will the law be ready for a no-deal Brexit?

We look at the work still outstanding for the Government to be ready for a no-deal Brexit.

Theresa May’s grip on Parliament os so precarious that her Government is struggling to pass no-deal legislation – or anything else (Mark Duffy/PA)
Theresa May’s grip on Parliament os so precarious that her Government is struggling to pass no-deal legislation – or anything else (Mark Duffy/PA)

The Government faces a “very significant risk” that the legislation required for a no-deal Brexit will not become law before March 29, a new report has warned.

The Institute for Government said it was “increasingly unlikely” that key Brexit bills would be passed in time.

It also warned that secondary legislation was also behind schedule, with almost half of the 600 statutory instruments yet to even be tabled in the Commons.

It is the latest warning about the paralysis that has gripped Parliament and the lack of time remaining to pass vital laws before Britain leaves the EU.

Here we look at what the Government is up against:

– Which Brexit bills are still outstanding?

There are six main bills yet to be passed by Parliament: the Trade Bill, Agriculture Bill, Fisheries Bill, Immigration Bill, Healthcare (International Agreements) Bill and the Financial Services Bill.

– What issues are preventing them from passing into law?

Firstly there is the basic lack of time for parliamentary business, with just 57 days to go until Brexit is due to happen – even with the February recess cancelled on Thursday. Then, just as importantly, there is the Government’s lack of control over Parliament, which means that sometimes bills are not even being risked.

– Doesn’t the Government control Parliamentary business?

In a normal world, yes. But this is not a normal world. Every piece of legislation that comes into the Commons or Lords faces potentially being hijacked by a group for or against Brexit. In the (IoG) report Brexit: two months to go, authors Joe Owen and Tim Durrant note: “The Government may have won a formal confidence vote but is struggling in both the Commons and the Lords to control parliamentary business. That means it cannot, as governments normally do, rely on its Commons majority to get its business through.”

– How far away are these bills though? Can’t they be prioritised to give them a chance?

Some seem quite a way off, with the IoG pointing out many have not even started the stages where they have to be scrutinised by the Lords, where the Government does not control time, before returning to the Commons.

– What about other law changes that are required?

There are some 600 statutory instruments – items of secondary legislation that can be passed into law by ministers without a vote of MPs – required, the IoG says. It calculates about 100 have passed through Parliament, and almost 300 have yet to be tabled.

– Can laws be pushed through in any way?

The IoG says: “Legislation can theoretically be rushed through Parliament, but that would bypass important scrutiny and, most importantly, require a stable majority – something the Government cannot currently bank on. That means there is a very significant risk that the laws that need to be in place for a no-deal Brexit will not be on the statute book.”

– How have we got to the situation we are in, this close to Brexit?

The Government has been accused of leaving it far, far too late in a lot of cases. The National Audit Office has been criticising cross-Government preparedness since last summer. The IoG report says that even if no-deal planning started immediately after the 2016 referendum, it would have been challenging. “But the Government did not start preparing for no-deal from day one – the actual timelines have been much shorter. The problems facing the Government in being ready for a no-deal Brexit are largely a reflection of the sheer scale and complexity of the task. But the Government’s approach to no-deal preparations – being unwilling to talk publicly about plans and developing an adversarial relationship with Parliament – has caused further problems.”

– Can this all be avoided?

Oh that’s the easy bit. Theresa May just has to get a viable Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament…

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