Explanatory Notes

Policy background

4 On 23 June 2016, a referendum was held in the UK and Gibraltar on whether the UK should remain a member of the EU. More than 33.5m people, some 72 per cent of registered voters, voted in the referendum and 52 per cent of those who voted, voted to leave the EU.

5 The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017 was passed into law on 16 March 2017. This gave the Prime Minister the power to notify the European Council of the UK’s intention to withdraw from the EU under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on the European Union (TEU). This notification was then given on 29 March 2017.

6 On 26 June 2018, the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018 passed into law. Its purpose is to provide a functioning statute book when the UK leaves the EU.

7 On 13 November 2017, the previous Government announced its intention to bring forward a new Bill to implement the Withdrawal Agreement in domestic law. This confirmed that the major policies set out in the Withdrawal Agreement would be given effect in domestic law through new primary legislation, rather than by secondary legislation under the then EU (Withdrawal) Bill.

8 On 14 November 2018, the previous Government published a draft of the Withdrawal Agreement (agreed at negotiator level). This Agreement was agreed by European leaders on 25 November 2018 and laid before Parliament on 26 November 2018.

9 The Agreement was subject to votes in the House of Commons as prescribed under s.13 of the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (EUWA) on 15 January 2019 and 12 March 2019, whilst the Withdrawal Agreement alone, without the Political Declaration, was voted on by the House of Commons on 29 March 2019. The Agreement was rejected in all these votes. The Agreement was also subject to take note motions in the House of Lords.

10 On 22 March 2019, the European Council and the United Kingdom agreed to an extension to the Article 50 period until 22 May 2019, provided the Withdrawal Agreement was approved by the House of Commons before 29 March 2019, or otherwise until 12 April 2019 (European Council Decision (EU) 2019/476, O.J. No. L 80 I, p.1). The definition of ‘exit day’ in the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018 was amended by statutory instrument The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (Exit Day) (Amendment) Regulations 2019 (S.I. 2019/718) to reflect this, having been approved by the House of Commons and the House of Lords on 27 March 2019.

11 On 5 April 2019, the then Prime Minister wrote to the President of the European Council seeking a second extension of the Article 50 period. On 11 April 2019, the European Council and the UK agreed an extension to the Article 50 period until 31 October 2019 (European Council Decision (EU) 2019/584, O.J. No. L 101, p.1). This extension could be terminated early if the Withdrawal Agreement was ratified and came into force before this date. Following the conclusion of the European Council, a statutory instrument The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (Exit Day) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2019 (S.I. 2019/859), was made under the negative procedure on 11 April amending the definition of ‘exit day’1 in the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018 to 31 October 2019 at 11.00pm.2

12 On 23 May 2019, Prime Minister Theresa May resigned. Following a change in Government, Prime Minister Boris Johnson committed to negotiating a new Withdrawal Agreement. This Withdrawal Agreement was agreed by European leaders at the European Council on 17 October 2019. In addition, the Government made a unilateral declaration concerning the operation of the ‘Democratic consent in Northern Ireland’ provision of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, which was published on the same day.

13 On 19 October 2019, the Government laid before Parliament the new Withdrawal Agreement and new framework for the future relationship between the UK and the EU.

14 On 21 October 2019, the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill was introduced to Parliament. The House of Commons voted for the Bill at Second Reading, which passed by 329-299, but the House did not vote in favour of the timetable to debate the Bill. Parliament subsequently legislated for an early general election and was dissolved on 6 November 2019 .

15 On 19 December 2019, the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill was introduced to Parliament.

1 ‘Exit day’ is defined by the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018. The date of the UK’s departure from the EU is referred to as ‘exit day’ throughout this document.

2 Between the first and second extensions of the Article 50 period, the procedure (found at paragraph 14 of Schedule 7 of the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018) for exercising the power in s.20(4) of the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018 to change the definition of ‘exit day’ in that Act was changed from the affirmative to the negative procedure. This was done by s.2 of the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2019, which received Royal Assent on 8 April 2019.

 

Prepared 19th December 2019