Open Britain Background Briefing on the Queen’s Speech

Top Lines

The Government are acting as if the General Election did not happen. Earlier this month, the British public rejected Theresa May’s plan for hard Brexit and the Prime Minister has no mandate now to pursue one. A softer and more consensual approach is needed.

The ultimate test of this Queen’s Speech is whether it will help deliver a Brexit that protects jobs and living standards, and delivers the ‘exact same benefits’ as Single Market and Customs Union membership, as Ministers have repeatedly promised. The vagueness of today’s proposals make this hard to judge. 


In this background briefing, Open Britain have analysed all eight of the proposed draft Brexit bills, setting out our concerns and areas where we would like to see the Government provide greater clarity. 

Individual Bills

1.1 Repeal Bill

This Bill will allow for a smooth and orderly transition as the UK leaves the EU, ensuring that, wherever practical, the same rules and laws apply after exit and therefore maximising certainty for individuals and businesses. The Bill will:

  • repeal the European Communities Act 1972 and convert EU law into UK law as we leave the EU
  • create temporary powers for Parliament to make secondary legislation, enabling corrections to be made to the laws that do not operate appropriately once we have left the EU; it will also allow changes to be made to domestic law to reflect the content of any withdrawal agreement under Article 50
  • replicate the common UK frameworks created by EU law in UK law, and maintain the scope of devolved decision-making powers immediately after exit. This will be a transitional arrangement to provide certainty after exit and allow intensive discussion and consultation with the devolved administrations on where lasting common frameworks are needed

The Bill does not put any constraints on the withdrawal agreement we will make with the EU and further legislation will be introduced to support such an agreement if and when required.

Open Britain’s View

  • Secondary legislation cannot be used as a pretext to make amendments to existing EU rules which are in place due to the UK’s EU membership. Such changes should be made through primary legislation. Open Britain is concerned by this use of secondary legislation, as laid out in our briefing released from March.
  • The Government must give an absolute, binding commitment that absolutely none of the EU measures – be they legislative or judicial – that protect workers, consumers and our environment will be in any way scrapped, altered or watered down by the Great Repeal Bill process.
  • It is encouraging that the Government has acknowledged the fact that existing legal frameworks will need to be upheld. The Government need to spell out in more detail what the transitional arrangements would actually entail and also their proposed length. 
  • If the bill “does not put any constraints on the withdrawal agreement we will make with the EU”, the Government must provide significantly more detail about its negotiating strategy and aims, so that the Repeal Bill can be properly judged, scrutinised and amended in the context of a greater understanding about what a future UK-EU relationship might look like. 

1.2 Customs Bill

As it stands, the EU customs code applies directly in the UK. The Bill will ensure:

  • that the UK has a standalone UK customs regime on exit
  • flexibility to accommodate future trade agreements with the EU and others
  • that changes can be made to the UK’s VAT and excise regimes to ensure that the UK has standalone regimes on EU-exit

Open Britain’s View

  • Open Britain has repeatedly called for the UK to remain in the Customs Union, which is essential for allowing for tariff-free trade with the UK’s largest export market.
  • The proposed contents of this bill suggest the Government will not seek continued membership of the Customs Union, even for a transitional period.
  • The Government will need to more precisely outline what customs relations it intends to have with the EU and demonstrate how this will impact on exporters, importers, and the wider UK economy. If trade with the EU were subject to tariffs and to non-tariff barriers associated with greater customs checks and bureaucracy, this would have huge consequences for British business.
  • The Government must also explain how it intends to have a standalone customs regime (with the required new infrastructure and IT systems) completely operationally ready from the moment the UK leaves the Customs Union. It is highly questionable that this kind of huge change can be set up and made operationally ready in less than two years.
  • Until the withdrawal agreement with the EU27 has been ratified, it will be impossible for the Government to lay out customs plans for non-EU trade.      
  • The Government must make clear how it is going to keep the promise made by Theresa May and David Davis to negotiate a customs agreement with the EU that gives Britain the “exact same benefits” as membership of the Customs Union. 

1.3 Trade Bill

The Bill will cement the United Kingdom’s status as a leading trading nation, driving positive global change through trade, whilst ensuring UK businesses are protected from unfair trading practices. The Bill will put in place the essential and necessary legislative framework to allow the UK to operate its own independent trade policy upon exit from the European Union.

Open Britain’s View 

  • Open Britain has been calling for the UK to stay in both the Single Market and the Customs Union – both essential for frictionless trade with the UK’s largest trading partner.
  • The Government must provide evidence – which it has not provided so far – that the benefits brought by signing new trade agreements with third countries will at least match the economic benefits of membership of the Customs Union if they are to in anyway justify their decision to leave the Customs Union.
  • The Government must set out its plan for retaining the free trade agreements with more than fifty non-EU countries that Britain currently benefits from as a member of the European Union, and how it will prevent these agreements lapsing or being altered to our detriment after Brexit.
  • Open Britain would call on the Government to provide further clarity, as this Bill provides no detail on what the Government believes UK trade policy should be after we leave the European Union. 

1.4 Immigration Bill

With the repeal of the European Communities Act, it will be necessary to establish new powers concerning the immigration status of EEA nationals. The Bill will allow the government to control the number of people coming here from Europe while still allowing us to attract the brightest and the best. The Bill will:

  • allow for the repeal of EU law on immigration, primarily free movement, that will otherwise be saved and converted into UK law by the Repeal Bill
  • make the migration of EU nationals and their family members subject to relevant UK law once the UK has left the EU

Open Britain’s View

  • The Queen’s speech did not include any reference to bringing annual net migration down to the “tens of thousands”, which it has repeatedly stated remains Government policy. Open Britain would like to hear if the Government now categorically rejects this target, which we believe to be both damaging and unworkable and have been campaigning to have dropped.
  • The Government need to spell out precisely what immigration limits they will be looking to put in place for EU nationals and the economic consequences of this new regime.
  • The Government must guarantee that British businesses and our public sector will not suffer from damaging skills shortages as a result of any new post-Brexit immigration policy.     

1.5 Fisheries Bill

As the UK leaves the EU, the Bill will enable the UK to exercise responsibility for access to fisheries and management of its waters. 

Open Britain’s View

  • The Government needs to explain how the new Fisheries Bill will improve the livelihoods of individuals and families working in the UK’s fishing sector if it is to justify leaving the Common Fisheries Policy.
  • The Government will need to explain how the fishing industry will be affected by Britain leaving the Single Market and Customs Union, given 66% of UK fish exports go to the EU. 

1.6 Agriculture Bill 

In line with the manifesto, the Bill will ensure that after we leave the EU we have an effective system in place to support UK farmers and protect our natural environment. The Bill will:

  • provide stability to farmers as we leave the EU
  • protect our precious natural environment for future generations
  • deliver on the manifesto commitment to “provide stability for farmers as we exit the EU 

Open Britain’s View

  • Open Britain calls on the Government to provide clarity as to whether existing levels of support to the farming community through the Common Agricultural Policy will be maintained.
  • Open Britain is campaigning for EU environmental standards to be replicated and upheld or improved upon after the UK leaves the EU.
  • The Government need to spell out precisely what impact their decision to leave the Customs Union and Single Market will have on the agriculture sector, both in terms of imports and especially on the huge amount of British agricultural produce and finished food and drink products which are exported to the European Union.

1.7 Nuclear Safeguards Bill

The Bill will establish a UK nuclear safeguards regime as we leave the European Union and Euratom. The Bill will give the Office for Nuclear Regulation powers to take on the role and responsibilities required to meet our international safeguards, and nuclear non-proliferation, obligations.

Open Britain’s View

  • Nuclear safety is of immense importance and the Government needs to explain clearly how existing safety rules and mechanisms will be upheld.
  • The Government needs to explain in detail what its staffing and capacity levels are to carry out nuclear safety checks.

1.8 International Sanctions Bill

The Bill will support our role as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a leading player on the world stage, by establishing a new sovereign UK framework to implement international sanctions on a multilateral or unilateral basis. The Bill will:

  • return decision-making powers on non-UN sanctions to the UK
  • enable the UK’s continued compliance with international law after the UK’s exit from the EU

Open Britain’s View

  • Open Britain calls on the Government to ensure that this bill will not lead to a weakening of the UK sanctions’ regime. Nobody voted in the referendum last year for sanctions to be weakened on pariah regimes.  
  • Open Britain would welcome an overview of the existing EU sanctions’ regimes to which the UK Government would not look to be a part, explaining in detail the reasoning for leaving.
  • The Government must set out how it seeks to see the UK co-operating with our EU partners on sanctions in the future, to ensure that leaving the EU’s sanctions regimes will not lead to a reduction in British influence on the world stage.