Help NFUS to shape post Brexit agriculture policy
One year on from Theresa May taking up residence in Downing Street and as the UK government’s flagship European Union (Withdrawal) Bill was introduced to the Commons, NFUS parliamentary officer CLARE SLIPPER takes stock. THERESA May’s appointment as Prime Minister followed a short but sharp race which consigned her leadership opponents, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, to the political sin bin.
Standing on the steps of Downing Street, the newly-appointed PM vowed to always work in the interests of families who were ‘just about managing’ and said she would rise to the ‘great national challenge’ of the EU referendum outcome.
A year later and both Johnson and Gove have risen from the ashes, being appointed as Foreign Secretary and Defra Secretary respectively. But they sit within a government that has been cut down to size following a surprise election campaign which many now consider to be simply seven weeks of precious Brexit negotiating time that we will never get back.
Clearly, the UK is not out of the post-referendum political quagmire yet.
The UK government’s flagship European Union (Withdrawal) Bill has been introduced to parliament – a title slightly less grandiose than its former title of the ‘Great Repeal Bill’. It will receive its first reading – a formality, which does not include a debate, and simply involves the short title of the bill is being read out followed by an order for the bill to be printed (and made available online).
The bill will repeal the European Communities Act 1972, which took Britain into the EU and remove the supremacy of Brussels law. Essentially, it will cut all EU rules, regulations and frameworks and paste them into UK and Scots law to ensure that the wheels don’t come off on day one of EU exit in April 2019. It is a technical and procedural bill, and will enable the introduction of future policy bills on agriculture, immigration, trade, customs and fisheries which will come next year.
Technical and procedural though it is, the EU ( Withdrawal) Bill is one of the biggest pieces of legislation ever to go through the UK parliament. To say that the political parties are gearing up for a major fight is an understatement.
Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer has said today that ‘ Labour is putting the government on notice’ and will vote against the bill unless the government changes its approach on a wide range of issues running from workers’ rights to parliamentary scrutiny.
The SNP has also threatened to vote against the bill unless Scotland is offered a raft of new powers – including, notably, full devolution of all powers for any future agricultural and rural policy.
And this is before the Scottish Parliament is even asked to grant a legislative consent motion for the bill to legislate in certain areas of devolved competence, which will no doubt create a fire-fight between the SNP government in Scotland and the UK government.
The Lib Dems have simply said that the bill will be ‘hell’.
Opposition support or not, the bill will pass if the DUP’s 10 MPs vote with the Conservative benches. However, the Prime Minister will need to apply a hard whip to her MPs, with dissenting voices from the left and right of the Conservative party also murmuring disapproval at the government’s Brexit approach.
What does all of this suggest about the reformist zeal and conciliatory political tone which the Prime Minister espoused when she stood on the steps of Downing Street on July 13, 2016?
The interesting part lies in the nature in which the bill has been introduced. The next stage of the parliamentary process is the second reading, where the bill receives a full debate over several days on the general principles.
With the House of Commons breaking for the long summer recess, one week from today, it is understood that the second reading – which is essentially the first opportunity for MPs to table amendments and question the government on the principles of the bill – won’t take place until late September or early October.
Commentators are suggesting the reason for the delay is due to the government’s nerves that opposition MPs will treat the draft legislation as ‘Christmas tree legislation’, where they string it up in amendments and complicate the legislative process.
Between now and then, NFUS will push hard to ensure that the interests of Scottish agriculture are taken into account in any plans for future regulatory systems.
Let’s hope that we are out of the quagmire and seeing much more clarity on the road ahead by Christmas.
Remember, NFU Scotland is asking for your views on how the union can shape post-Brexit agricultural policy. Read our discussion document, Change – A New Agricultural Policy for Scotland Post-Brexit, and get in touch at Brexit@nfus.org.uk.