Vast no-deal Brexit Bill will meet March 29th deadline, says Government

Chief Whip announces only six priority Bills to be published in spring session

Seán Kyne TD. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

Seán Kyne TD. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

 

The Government has said it is confident it will enact its enormous emergency Bill to deal with the contingencies of a no-deal Brexit in time for the scheduled exit on March 29th.

In a highly unusual departure from convention, the Government Chief Whip Seán Kyne announced only six priority Bills to be published during the spring session – a third of the usual number of priority Bills.

The reason for this is because a single piece of legislation, a Brexit omnibus Bill will dominate the legislative process during the first quarter of this year.

At a press briefing, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said there would be at least 17 sections in the Bill, covering all major areas of economic, social, transport, health and justice activities.

In addition, 28 pieces of secondary legislation (statutory instruments) are required to cover contingencies such as recognising a British driving licence in Ireland, or funding Irish students attending universities in the UK.

The Miscellaneous Provisions (Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union on 29 March 2019) Bill is expected to run to hundreds of pages and will involve input from practically every Government department.

The Tánaiste said the reality would probably be that the Oireachtas would spend two months preparing and drafting this huge piece of emergency legislation “that you are not going to use”. The legislation will only be triggered in the event of a no-deal Brexit, a scenario Mr Coveney presented as less likely.

Defending its proposed publication so close to the March 29th deadline, the Tánaiste said that it did “not make sense to pass emergency legislation months in advance”.

The Bill will be processed under an incredibly tight time-frame. It will be published in draft form next week and published in full on February 22nd. The Government is confident it can pass through the Oireachtas by March 14th.

“We will need reasonable co-operation from the Opposition which we do think we can get,” said Mr Coveney. “I would much rather be doing something else in March [than working on a Bill that might be redundant].”

The 17 sections address areas including healthcare, the single electricity market, student support, rail safety, financial services, immigration legislation and extradition legislation.

The five other Bills on the priority list include a Bill to set up a cervical check tribunal; provision for a new referendum on divorce to occur later this year; and a Bill increasing the number of European Parliament seats in Ireland by two to 13.