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John Howell MP Writes - March 2017

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A look back at recent key issues in Westminster and the Constituency

As I write Brexit is a hot topic and hardly a day goes by without us hearing something about it. Certainly in the world of politics it has been a dominant subject. Last month I tried to move away from the subject and report on others things that are going on. However it is clear from correspondence and discussions that there is much confusion on just what has been happening in the courts and in Parliament and also concern on specific issues going forward.

This month I will focus on this to try to help bring some clarity. For those interested to know more or to follow developments as we progress I write regular updates on my blog ('s-blog/) and send out periodic updates in my e-briefings. If you would like to subscribe to the latter please see details below.

Firstly let me turn to the debate that was had in Parliament earlier this month. This revolved around Article 50. This is something which was introduced by the Lisbon Treaty in 2009. It allows a Member State to leave the EU and sets out the procedure for this to happen. The debate in Parliament followed the judgement of the Supreme Court that the Prime Minister must seek approval of Parliament to trigger Article 50. The short Bill presented to the House was simply to enshrine in Statue the power for the Prime Minister to judge the timing of when this should occur. The Bill is still going through parliamentary process and is currently with the House of Lords. The Lords may suggest some amendments but as it stands it is not anticipated that there will be anything new coming forward to the House of Commons when it returns. Nonetheless, whatever the outcome, this Bill will not lead to the immediate triggering of Article 50. Article 50 remains as untriggered today as it has always been. The clock will not start ticking from the day of Royal Assent and the timing would be in the hands of the Prime Minister.

An important document that has now been published is the Government White Paper which carries the rather long title of ‘The United Kingdom’s exit from and new partnership with the European Union’. This paper sets out the key priorities for negotiations in a number of areas and for the first time sets out clearly some of the critical issues. It has already proved useful in the constituency as a starting point for discussion to help me get a feel for the issues that are most important or of most concern to constituents.

The terms ‘hard Brexit’ and ‘soft Brexit’ are widely bandied around and many have asked me just what they mean. I regret that these terms have come into the shorthand as they can be misleading. Essentially they represent the extremes and following negotiation we are likely to have neither as currently defined. For now the term Hard Brexit identifies a situation in which the UK leaves the EU swiftly, not as a member of the Single Market but as a member of the World Trade Organisation. The World Trade Organisation is an international organisation with over 164 member countries. The UK is already a member of the WTO. Relying on WTO rules would lead to multiple individual negotiations. In contrast soft Brexit identifies a situation in which the UK leaves the EU but negotiates continued membership of the Single Market in some way e.g. as part of the European Economic Area, while giving up influence over single market rules.  At best the idea of a hard or soft Brexit sets the ends of the spectrum but I think that the two terms suggest something simplistic and mask the true complexity of the negotiations.

A further important aspect of our withdrawal will be the ‘Great Repeal Bill’. It is planned to introduce this in the next session of Parliament in May this year. It will repeal the European Commission Act 1972 which marked our entry into the EU and where practical will convert EU law into domestic law. As I understand it, it is likely that this will mop up any unfinished business and will be the means by which we avoid falling off a ‘cliff edge’; that is leaving with outstanding issues to resolve; as some worry we could. However we have yet to see the details of this.

If you would like to know more about my work you may like to be on the circulation list for my regular e-newsletter and special briefings sent on an occasional basis on specific issues. To be added to the list please email me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . For more information about my work both in Westminster and in the constituency please do visit my website which is regularly updated. The address is You can also follow me on twitter @johnhowellmp or on Facebook