The following article was originally published in the North Wales Weekly News newspaper on 22 March 2017.
By any standards, Thursday, 16 March 2017, was an historic day: the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, which had completed its passage through Parliament the previous Monday, received Royal Assent and became law. Two amendments had been made by the House of Lords, one of which was a fairly naked attempt to frustrate the purpose of the Bill, but both were rejected by the Commons, and ultimately the Bill was passed unamended.
The Bill empowers the Government to give notice to the European Council, pursuant to Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, of its intention to withdraw from the EU. The Prime Minister has made clear that this will be done before the end of this month.
Once the Article 50 notice has been served, the “phony war” that has prevailed since the 23 June referendum will come to an end. The next step will be for the Council of the 27 continuing Member States to draw up the guidelines for the negotiations, which, under the terms of the Treaty, must be completed within two years.
All this means that there will certainly be a considerable amount of activity on the international front, but there will be a lot of domestic action, too. Shortly after the start of the next session of Parliament in May, the Government will introduce the Great Repeal Bill, the purpose of which will be to ensure that, on the date of our departure, the European Communities Act 1972 will no longer apply in the United Kingdom.
In addition, the Bill will provide that the current body of EU law, which has grown exponentially since we joined the Common Market in 1973, will be converted to British law, enabling Parliament to confirm, amend or repeal it at leisure. This will make for certainty and continuity for business after we have departed.
So, there is a lot more work to be done; and, while we can note the historic significance of 16 March, we must remember that it was, to paraphrase Churchill, “not the end, nor even the beginning of the end, but, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”