82.Our scrutiny of the proposed Council Decisions for authorising the EU to sign and conclude the Withdrawal Agreement and the evidence we have gathered thus far in our “UK exit from the EU” inquiry have led us to identify key points of legal significance relating to the text of the draft Withdrawal Agreement itself. With this Report, we also draw the attention of the House to substantial concerns about the conduct of the EU exit negotiations.
83.One of the most striking themes to have emerged from our evidence so far concerns the way in which the UK Government itself has handled the process of negotiation internally. This seems to us to have left the Government vulnerable to internal division and therefore undermining its own negotiating position with the EU and potentially compromising the British position under the Withdrawal Agreement itself. These conclusions are only provisional as our inquiry is ongoing but we are concerned by what the evidence is showing us so far.
84.We recognise that we are reporting on these documents in a fast-moving situation and we are aware that the results of the Attorney General’s current negotiations with the EU are critical given the clear obligations of the Attorney General to Parliament. We consider it therefore imperative that the results of these negotiations are made available to Parliament no less than 48 hours before the debate scheduled to take place no later than 12 March in time for it to have the opportunity to give proper consideration before the second Meaningful Vote on the draft Withdrawal Agreement promised by the Prime Minister and expected to take place on that day.
85.We urge the Government, through the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, to authorise immediately the publication of the draft Withdrawal Agreement and Implementation Bill so that Parliament can assess how the draft Withdrawal Agreement is intended to be enacted, including its effect on the express repeal of the European Communities Act 1972, under section 1 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.
86.At the time of writing there remains uncertainty about when, if at all, the process for adopting and implementing both proposed Decisions will be completed. We therefore retain the documents under scrutiny whilst seeking further information from the Secretary of State on the specific conclusions and questions set out in the body of this Report. Given the urgency of the current situation, we expect a response to this Report before the next European Council to be held on 21–22 March.
87.In the meantime, we draw this Report and these documents to the attention of the House, in advance of the second “Meaningful Vote” expected to take place on or before 12 March. We hope that doing so will help to inform both debate in the House and our wider audience as well as Members of Parliament who, as individuals and as a collective, have weighty and urgent decisions to make in the coming days and weeks regarding the future of our nation and its relations with the EU.
Published: 8 March 2019