UK general election: what does it mean for Brexit and for legislation currently going through the UK Parliament?

Written on 18 Apr 2017

Prime Minister Theresa May today announced that she is seeking a general election to be held on 8 June 2017.  That requires the House of Commons to pass a motion, as set out in the Fixed Term Parliament Act, by a two-thirds majority approving the holding of an election before 2020.  This looks like a formality, given that the Labour Party has indicated it will vote in favour of such a motion.

So what will an election mean for Brexit?

If the bookmakers and polls are correct – and they haven’t had an unblemished record of success in the past year – and the Conservatives are returned to power, from the UK side, the government is highly likely to continue with its existing policy of “delivering Brexit”.  The Prime Minister said today:

Britain is leaving the EU and there can be no turning back. And as we look to the future the Government has the right plan for negotiating our new relationship with Europe.”

From the EU side, a spokesperson for the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, today confirmed that the UK election would make no difference to the EU27’s timetable:

The UK elections do not change our EU27 plans.  We expect to have the Brexit guidelines adopted by the European Council on 29 April and following that the Brexit negotiating directives ready on 22 May.”

If the Conservatives are not returned to power, all we can say at the moment is that, from the UK side at least, it could well be back to drawing board in terms of what Brexit might look like – or even whether it happens at all…

Will this UK legislation be passed before the election?

Four Bills of particular relevance to business are currently before Parliament:

  • The Criminal Finances Bill;
  • The Digital Economy Bill;
  • The Prisons and Courts Bill; and
  • The Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill.

The government has yet to announce which of the Bills currently before Parliament will be passed in any “wash-up” session before Parliament is dissolved (which could be as soon as 3 May 2017), ahead of the election.

Looking at the parliamentary timetable for the Criminal Finances Bill and the implications for business – it seems unlikely that this would be passed before the election.

Similarly, the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill (includes provisions relating to connected and autonomous vehicles) and the Prisons and Courts Bill are likely to be too early in the legislative process to make it onto the statute book ahead of an election.

The Digital Economy Bill is further down the parliamentary track, with final amendments going before the Commons. So this may be a candidate to be passed in a pre-election “wash-up” session.

In the event of a Conservative victory, it is a reasonable assumption that any of these Bills that do not make it to the statute books before the election will each return to the parliamentary process in the new parliamentary term.  In the event of another party or a coalition entering power, that assumption would not hold.

To discuss any of the matters discussed in this article, please contact one of our experts.