Brexit legislation won’t be ready for March 29, government admits

House of Commons business finishes four hours early. Photograph: Parliament TV.

House of Commons business finishes four hours early. Photograph: Parliament TV. - Credit: Archant

The government will not have completed all of the legislation needed to prepare for life after Brexit by March 29, Downing Street has admitted.

A spokeswoman confirmed that certain pieces of legislation had been 'deprioritised' and will be dealt with after Brexit.

But she insisted that all 'vital' changes to the statute book would be ready in time for the UK's scheduled withdrawal, whether it happens with or without a deal with the EU.

'We are on track to deliver the statutory instruments (SIs) we need for exit day and we have already laid over 80% of these,' said Number 10.

Writing on the ConservativeHome website, former agriculture minister George Eustice - who quit the government last week to fight for Brexit - said: 'The civil service has done a sterling job preparing for no deal. We are in the process of laying hundreds of statutory instruments to make retained EU law operable.

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'There are a few that have been deprioritised and will not be done by the end of March but, when I went through the small number that were being left behind, it was pretty clear that they were a collection of inconsequential rules that were either not particularly relevant to the UK anyway or were where alternative powers already existed.'

The Number 10 spokeswoman confirmed this position, telling reporters: 'We are prioritising those that we can secure on time and prioritising the most important SIs.

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'We have made quite a lot of progress on those, but clearly the timetable is short to March 29 and it's sensible that the government would choose to prioritise secondary legislation that is vital for our departure in the event of no deal.'

Up to 600 SIs need to be passed through Parliament as a result of Brexit, many of them making amendments to pieces of legislation which refer to EU institutions and procedures which will no longer be relevant to the UK.

By yesterday, the government had laid 487 of them before Parliament and 284 had been completed, the spokeswoman said.

'We are taking advice as to the legislation we need in anticipation of making sure the statute book is ready,' she said.

'We are pushing to make sure the most important are in place, and putting in place mitigations for those that are not.

'We will make sure that our statute book is ready. If that involves prioritising certain pieces of legislation, then we will do that and work very hard on the other side of March 29 to push the rest through as quickly as possible.'

The Government also needs to pass six Bills ahead of a no-deal Brexit on the issues of trade, agriculture, fisheries, immigration, healthcare and financial services.

Asked whether these would all clear Parliament by March 29, the spokeswoman said: 'We've said the statute book will be ready and that's what we are working to achieve.'

Parliament is not sitting today.

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