The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017 has now come into force.
Having started its legislative journey as a Bill on 26th January, after the Supreme Court’s decision in the Miller case, it was passed by both the Houses of Commons and Lords on 13th March, and received Royal Assent on 16th March, at which stage it became law. The Act gives the UK Government the power to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, in order to begin negotiations on the UK’s exit from the EU.
The Act’s passage through Parliament was not without incident; members of the Commons and the Lords having expressed very different views on what provisions ought to be included in the legislation. The UK Government’s view was that it was intended as ‘enabling legislation’ only, and as such should not contain substantive detail; the House of Commons agreed and passed the legislation without amendment. The House of Lords, however, took the view that the rights of EU citizens living in the UK ought to be protected and enshrined in the Act, in order to safeguard their status within the UK as it exits the EU.
Despite much disagreement between MPs and peers, the Act passed without amendment late on 13th March. Even now that it has received Royal Assent, it should be borne in mind that the Act does not mean that the UK Government is obliged to invoke Article 50 immediately, but merely gives it the ability to do when it wishes. The Prime Minister has indicated previously that the Government will do so prior to the end of March 2017.