The White Paper on the Withdrawal & Implementation Bill: Too Many Unanswered Questions - People's Vote

The White Paper on the Withdrawal & Implementation Bill: Too Many Unanswered Questions


On Tuesday 24 July, the UK Government published a white paper on the withdrawal & implementation bill, the aim of which will be to implement the yet-to-be agreed withdrawal & transition agreement between the UK and the EU into UK law.     

In this People’s Vote campaign briefing, we outline 10 key problems with the proposals, all of which strengthen the case for giving the public a say on any Brexit deal:

  1. The document accepts that the UK would become a rule-taker.
  2. It fails to meet the Government’s own promise of securing a trade deal with the EU by March 2019.
  3. It commits the Government to extending the European Communities Act, instead of extending EU membership.
  4. It underestimates the size of the divorce bill.
  5. It makes clear the UK is damned either way on the divorce bill.
  6. The time the Government is allowing for scrutiny of any deal is nowhere long enough.
  7. There is ongoing uncertainty on citizens’ rights.
  8. The document was cobbled together at the last minute and rushed-through.
  9. The Government have completely unrealistic expectations for the negotiations.
  10. No deal is still on the table – with all its disastrous consequences.


Top Lines

  • The Government’s attempts to deliver Brexit are descending into utter shambles. Today we have the farcical situation of the Government publishing a new White Paper that attempts to walk back legislation they themselves passed only weeks ago.
  • The document makes it clear that if we get a deal we’ll be subject to EU rules and regulations for years to come, at the cost of tens of billions of pounds, but without any influence over how those rules are made and in return for a worse relationship than we have already. This botched approach to Brexit would satisfy no-one.
  • But the stark reality that Ministers refuse to face up to is that, although this White Paper assumes there will be a deal, the reality is that there is no majority in Parliament for any Brexit deal, nor for a disastrous ‘no deal’ Brexit.
  • It is unacceptable that the Government chose to publish this white paper on the final before recess. This is yet further evidence of a Government running scared and seeking to avoid scrutiny.
  • With politicians about to leave the chaos of Westminster behind for the Summer, it’s time for the people of this country to take back control of this process and demand their right to a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal.


It would turn the UK into a rule taker

Government approach:

  • “During the implementation period, there will be common rules across the UK and the EU. This means that EU law will continue to have effect in the UK in the same way as now for this 21-month period.”
  • “The UK will no longer have the right to nominate CJEU judges…”


  • This approach would turn the UK from being a rule maker into a rule taker, with no say whatsoever on key decisions affecting UK businesses, food standards and regulations.
  • The ECJ will continue to play a role in the UK, without the UK having a judge on the court. This flies in the face of the promise made by Brexiters and the Prime Minister to end the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice in the UK: “we will take back control of our laws and bring an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in Britain.”[1]

It fails to meet the Government’s own promise of securing a trade deal with the EU by March 2019

Government approach:

  • “the UK’s future relationship with the EU… will not be finally concluded until after the UK’s exit from the EU.”


  • This runs counter to previous claims by the former Brexit Secretary who said in January 2017 that “I believe that we can get a free trade and customs agreement concluded before March 2019”.

It commits the Government to extending the European Communities Act, instead of extending EU membership

Government approach:

  • “It will be necessary, however, to ensure that EU law continues to apply in the UK during the implementation period. This will be achieved by way of transitional provision, in which the Bill will amend the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018 so that the effect of the ECA is saved for the time-limited implementation period.”


  • Only a few weeks ago, the Government passed the EU Withdrawal Bill, the very first point of which reads as follows: “The European Communities Act 1972 is repealed on exit day.”[2]
  • Given the Government intends for EU law to continue to apply anyway, this begs the question as to why the Government doesn’t instead seek an extension of the Article 50 negotiations.


It underestimates the size of the divorce bill

Government approach:

  • “However, following the outline agreement on the financial settlement in December 2017, the Government used publicly available European Commission data to set out a reasonable central estimate of the settlement of £35-39 billion. The National Audit Office (NAO) subsequently produced a report concluding that this was a reasonable estimate.”


  • Only recently, Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee has demonstrated that in fact the divorce bill is likely to be £10bn higher than the figure which the Government are quoting.[3]


The UK is damned either way on the divorce settlement payment

Government approach:

  • As stated in the December Joint Report, the settlement has been put forward by the UK on the condition of an overall agreement under Article 50 on the UK’s withdrawal, taking into account the future relationship, including an agreement on transitional arrangements.”
  • Separately, in an opinion editorial at the weekend, Dominic Raab asserted that the UK would only make the divorce payment settlement if this were linked to the successful agreement of an agreement with the EU on a future relationship.[4] 


  • This approach is in direct contrast to the Chancellor who highlighted as far back as December that withholding payments was a non-starter. In comments to the Treasury Committee, he stated that “inconceivable that we would walk away from obligations…That would not make us credible partner for future international agreements.”[5] 
  • This means that whatever kind of Brexit deal the UK does or does not negotiate, it will end up having to pay a divorce settlement.


The timescale which the Government has given itself to implement the agreement is not long enough

Government approach:

  • In today’s white paper, the Government spells out the steps which will be necessary to bring this agreement into UK law, including that “The EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018 also sets out that the Government must, so far as practicable, hold the vote to approve the final deal in the House of Commons before the European Parliament votes on the Agreement.”


  • Even if the withdrawal agreement is agreed at the 18/19 October European Council (which currently seems highly unlikely) then Parliament would need to work flat out from then onwards to ensure that it would be able to finalise everything in sufficient time for the European Parliament to also vote on the agreement prior to the 29 March 2019 deadline.
  • The Government’s approach also fails to take into consideration what would happen if Parliament voted down the agreement. In this foreseeable scenario the clock would very much still be ticking and the Government would need to think fast about next steps, if a no deal scenario were to be avoided.  

Ongoing uncertainty on citizens’ rights & the role of the ECJ

Government approach:

  • A key step in providing a smooth and orderly exit from the EU is to provide certainty for EU citizens living in the UK, and UK nationals living in other EU countries.”
  • “The Withdrawal Agreement sets out that, for the eight years following the end of the implementation period, UK courts will be able to make references to the CJEU in relation to the citizens’ rights agreement.”


  • Until now, despite the Government’s best intentions, EU citizens living in the UK have been faced with nothing but uncertainty. Indeed, the Government’s recent paper on settled status for EU citizens left many questions open, including what would happen in a “no deal” scenario.
  • The section of the white paper on citizen’s rights once again underlines that the UK will be turning into a rule-taker thanks to Brexit, if the European Court of Justice will continue to hold legal sway in the UK long after Brexit.


A completely rushed-through, last minute document

Government approach:

  • Once again, this is a last-minute rushed-through document, where even the foreword by The Brexit Secretary of State referred to the European Union as the “Europen Union”.


  • As with the recent fiasco over poor translations of the white paper on the future UK-EU relationship into other EU languages[6], this once again demonstrates the clumsy nature of this Government, stumbling through the Brexit negotiations not entirely sure of what they are doing.


Unrealistic expectations of the negotiations

Government approach:

  • “The UK has proposed that, after the implementation period, there should be a system for the mutual recognition of professional qualifications, enabling professionals to provide services across the UK and the EU. This system would be broad in scope, covering the same range of professions as the Mutual Recognition of Qualifications Directive.”
  • “For example, as the recent White Paper on the future relationship set out, there are some specific European programmes in which the UK may want to participate, such as Horizon Europe. If so, and this will be for the UK to decide, it is reasonable that an appropriate contribution should be made.”
  • “The Government expects and intends to achieve a deal that Parliament can support.”


  • Many of the Government’s aims are incompatible with their objective ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. The closer the relationship the UK has with the EU, the greater the likelihood that the UK will have to follow EU rules. 
  • Given the recent divisions that Brexit has highlighted in Parliament, it is highly unlikely that the Government will be able to present a deal which Parliament will be able to get behind.


No deal is still on the table

Government approach:

  • “Whilst the Government has every confidence that the implementation period will be in place, it has a duty to continue to plan for all eventualities, including a ‘no deal’ scenario, until the agreement is in place.”


  • International negotiations are not based on “confidence” but on cold, hard reality. As is now well-known, “no deal” would be devastating for the UK economy, with even the Government estimating it would lead to growth being 10% lower than it would otherwise have been over the next 15 years.[7]
  • The warnings about “no deal” have grown in recent weeks, ranging from pharmaceutical companies warning about the need to stockpile medicines[8] to the former Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, warning that “no deal” could lead to a “state of emergency”.[9]


[1] Theresa May, Lancaster House speech, 17 January 2017