Picture: 16:00 on 30 December 2020. Boris Johnson Tweet. Signing the TCA…choosing to ignore the democratic process – and putting himself above the Law, Parliament and the Constitutional requirements of the United Kingdom – prior to the ‘Bill’ completing the process to become an ‘Act’.
30 December 2020: Parliament was recalled for just one day to pass legislation required to implement the draft agreement ‘Trade and Cooperation Agreement’, reached between the UK and European Union on Christmas Eve.
Without this ‘ratification’ the UK would have left the EU at 23:00 GMT 31 December 2020.
Before any international agreement can be ratified, the Law requires ‘21 Parliamentary sitting days’ – allowing time for scrutiny and open discussion.
As the Government ‘concluded’ negotiations on a trade deal only on 24 December – it then decided to ‘bypass’ the requirements of the ‘Constitutional Reform and Governance Act’, 2010. The ‘European Union (Future Relationship)’ Bill completed all of the 12 Parliamentary stages through the House of Commons, House of Lords, Committees and Royal Assent in one day. Indeed, as Boris Johnson’s Tweet shows – he chose not to wait even for this process to complete.
Embarrassingly for every British citizen that believes and has put their trust in democracy, the Prime Minister in a ‘travesty’ of a lawful and constitutional process put himself above Parliament and the British constitution by signing a Treaty mid-process. The deal was signed whilst the House of Lords were in session and working through the details of the draft Agreement.
A cross-party House of Commons ‘Committee on the Future Relationship with the EU’ had worked through the night and published- in a unanimously agreed report – an initial assessment of the 1,246-page draft ‘Agreement’ as an briefing for MPs overnight. The report’s key findings include:
- Having an agreed deal in place is better than no deal. The Committee welcomed an outcome that “ensures UK businesses and consumers will not face the prospect of tariffs from 1 January. Considering the interconnectedness and geographic proximity of the two markets, and their common interests, the importance of the agreement should not be underestimated.”
- Significant change is still coming on 1 January. The Agreement “does not preserve current trading arrangements. It is therefore critical that the Government is clear in its communications to businesses, traders and communities about the terms of the deal and its implications.”
- Both sides should implement the Trade and Cooperation Agreement – and get on with addressing the remaining uncertainties. The Committee urges “both sides to proceed with implementation and establish the new institutional arrangements set out under the Agreement. Priority should also be given to outstanding areas of uncertainty, such as equivalence for financial services and a data adequacy decision.”
- The Committee calls on the “relevant authorities on both sides to support businesses through the implementation of new arrangements, rather than punishing them for unintended non-compliance.”
- The “compressed timetable for ratification is concerning”. The complexity of the Agreement means that it will take more than a day for its contents and implications to be fully understood. MPs “have been left with very little time in which to read the TCA and the accompanying Future Relationship Bill and reach a judgement on their contents.” The Bill will not be subject to detailed scrutiny before a vote.
Committee Chair, Hilary Benn MP, said that businesses: “will not have to face the economically damaging consequences of tariffs that would have resulted from no deal. Reaching an agreement allows for future cooperation between the UK and EU on matters of mutual interest. Uncertainty remains in areas such as financial services and data adequacy as the full implications of the end of the transition period become clear.”
Meanwhile, the EU has similarly not constitutionally been able to ‘fully ratify’ the Agreement in the time available. The European Parliament will not vote until the New Year. Instead, the 27 Member State governments agreed yesterday – 29 December 2020 – to ‘provisionally’ apply the deal, pending the consent of the European Parliament in the new year.
The treaty was, therefore, signed on behalf of the EU by European Council President, Charles Michel, and European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, on 30 December 2020.
A Royal Air Force plane immediately transported the text from Brussels to London – and the Prime Minister signed it immediately after stage 4 of the Parliamentary process – rather than waiting for the completion of the 12 required stages through Parliament.
The Government had already engineered Parliament into making a stark choice – accept and ratify a ‘thin’ deal – or face the cliff-edge of a ‘no-deal’.
The price of using constitutional breach to force through and ‘get Brexit done’ may yet prove to be a high one for democracy.
This legislation will underpin the most important Treaty for 47 years – one that will govern every aspect of the UK’s future relationship with the EU for decades to come. It has been forced through parliament in an all-time record time of one day – and just one day before it takes effect.
The First Reading of the Bill dispensed with, the Second Reading was allowed 5 Hours, the ‘Commons Committee’ stage just 4 minutes, and Third Reading was put to a vote without allowing any debate. The passage of the Bill moved on to the House of Lords at 3:00 o’clock.
Boris Johnson then, in a demonstration of utter contempt for the constitution of the United Kingdom and democracy, choose not to wait for even for this ‘charade’ to run its course – he signed the Treaty with Europe immediately after the House of Commons vote.
He tweeted: “By signing this deal, we fulfill the sovereign wish of the British people to live under their own laws, made by their own elected Parliament.”
Irrespective of the democratic outcome in the UK – the Agreement will then take effect from 1 January 2021.
What does Johnson’s deal mean according to the ‘Lords’ – 23 new joint UK-EU ‘Working Groups’, 250,000 additional customs declarations per year, 50,000 new customs and border agents to be recruited and trained, a new requirement for customs declarations for goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland,…their verdict on Boris Johnson’s ‘getting Brexit done’.
The House of Commons Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, informed MPs that the European Union (Future Relationship) Act 2020 – ratifying the UK’s trade deal with the EU – been granted royal assent by the Queen in the early hours of New Year’s Eve. The Act comes into force at 23:00 GMT on 31 December 2020.
Recalled for the day, MSPs in the Scottish Parliament debated and voted to reject the post-Brexit trade deal agreed between the UK and the EU: Nicola Sturgeon: “While a no deal outcome must be avoided”, the deal that has been negotiated with EU leaders will “cause severe damage to Scotland’s environmental, economy and social interests”.
And we cannot end without noting, for the record, that the Trade and Cooperation Agreement could not have been concluded without the UK yielding to the EU on the sovereignty of Northern Ireland – an action completed by Michael Gove in secret in Brussels on 17 December – with Parliament only informed as the ‘treaty-breaching’ clauses were withdrawn from the ‘Internal Market’ Bill on his return. This move means that the Province remains in the EU customs union and there is the introduction of a new ‘hard’ border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.