The United Kingdom Internal Market Bill contains controversial proposals that will override parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol. What path does it take through the UK legislative system? This Just the Facts explores the next steps in the parliamentary process of the bill.
What is the UK Internal Market Bill?
The Northern Ireland Protocol, contained in the EU – UK Withdrawal Agreement, outlines how Northern Ireland will remain part of the UK’s customs union but some EU custom rules will still apply to certain goods entering into Ireland, so that they can still move freely.
Under the Protocol, products and goods that move from Great Britain to Northern Ireland will only be subject to tariffs when they are “at risk” of moving into the EU (into Ireland, for example) afterwards.
As a result of the application of the Union Customs Code, it does mean that certain checks and processes will be required on goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
This is all done to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland. It also aims to protect the integrity of the EU’s single market, so that Ireland does not become a ‘back door’ for goods coming into the Union.
The bill, published on Wednesday, 9 September, includes provisions which the UK government state will maintain that trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland will remain barrier-free, after the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December 2020.
How will the bill impact the Protocol?
Part 5 of the bill will empower UK ministers “to prevent the application of, and unilaterally re-interpret and disapply parts of the Protocol, as well as ignore their legal obligations under both domestic and international law to enact the Protocol.” It sets out to achieve this through a number of clauses.
- Clause 41: Which limits the powers of UK authorities, after the transition period, to prevent the introduction of checks, controls or administrative processes on goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain.
- Clause 42: This gives powers to ministers to create regulations that will change exit procedures for goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain.
- Clause 43: This allows the Secretary of State the power “to make regulations that can interpret Article 10 of the Protocol, and further disapply and modify its effects, including disapplying it entirely.” Article 10 relates to EU state aid rules which affect trade between Northern Ireland and the EU.
- Clause 44: States that only the Secretary of State can notify the European Commission of state aid or proposed state aid, and give information about it, if this is required by Article 10 of the Protocol.
Additionally, Clause 45 states that laws made by ministers under the bill cannot be found incompatible with international law.
What will happen next with the UK Internal Market Bill?
Despite calls from the EU to withdraw the bill, as it poses a serious challenge to ongoing negotiations and to the future EU – UK relationship, the UK government is pressing ahead with it through parliament.
The bill must pass through both houses of the British parliament, first in the House of Commons where the UK government commands an 80-seat majority and then secondly in the House of Lords, where the government does not have a majority.
With a majority of 77 votes, on Monday, 14 September, the bill passed through its first legislative stage in the Commons, in a vote which saw 340 votes in favour with 263 in opposition.
On Tuesday 22 September, the bill moved through its latest stage in the House of Commons, after several amendments were tabled. One amendment that passed, will allow the House of Commons a vote to approve the Prime Minister in using the bill’s powers.
With this, a rebellion within the Conservative Party over the bill has been prevented, meaning that the bill will likely move through the House of Commons uninterrupted, a process that is expected to be completed on Tuesday, 29 September.
Next, it will move to the House of Lords and while many members there have criticised the bill, its primary role is to amend and improve any legislation, not to block. It is expected that members will debate it throughout the month of October and potentially into November.
Delaying the legislative process further will mean that any amendments that the House of Lords propose will have to go back to the House of Commons to be voted upon. This is a process that could last until early December.
All the while, the bill will loom in the background as EU and UK officials continue negotiations in a crunch period. Both Boris Johnson and the EU have stated that if a deal is not reached in October, there will not be enough time before the transition period ends on 31 December 2020 to conclude talks and allow the deal to be approved by the EU institutions and ratified in Member State’s parliaments.
Key dates in the Brexit timeline:
|Tuesday 29 September 2020:||The UK Internal Market Bill is expected to complete its initial legislative stage in the House of Commons.|
|Wednesday 30 September 2020:||Date on which the EU has requested that the UK withdraw the Internal Market Bill.|
|Thursday 15 October 2020:||Start of two-day European Council summit. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has stated that an EU – UK deal must be reached before this begins, in order to allow for sufficient time for the deal’s approval by the EU institutions and ratification by Member States, before the formal end of the transition phase at the end of December.|
|Saturday 31 October 2020:||Similarly, this is the deadline that Michel Barnier and other EU officials have set as for reaching an agreement with the UK for the same reasons.|
|Monday 23 November 2020:||European Parliament plenary, which could be crucial in ratifying an agreement between the EU and the UK.|
|Thursday 10 December 2020:||Start of two-day European Council, the final such summit of 2020.|
|Monday 14 December 2020:||Final European Parliament plenary for 2020.|
|Thursday 31 December 2020:||Final day of the transition phase for the UK.|