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In response to the UK’s formal request to the EU to extend the two-year article 50 period beyond 29 March 2019, the European Council agreed last week to an extension until 22 May 2019 if the House of Commons approves the withdrawal agreement before 29 March 2019, and to 12 April 2019 if the House of Commons does not approve the withdrawal agreement by 29 March 2019. The terms of this extension were adopted as a legally binding European Council Decision on 22 March 2019, and the UK will not be leaving the EU on 29 March 2019.

The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (the EUWA) sets the date of ‘exit day’ in domestic law as 29 March 2019. Under powers contained in the EUWA, the Government has laid draft regulations before Parliament to change the date of exit day in domestic law to reflect what has been agreed with the EU about the UK’s departure date. It is the operation of article 50 and EU law which govern when the UK’s membership of the EU will cease. ‘Exit day’ as specified in the EUWA can only have an effect in domestic law—failing to change the date of exit day in domestic law will not affect the agreement the UK has made with the EU about extending the article 50 period. However, the Government is seeking to ensure that the date of exit day in domestic law matches the date on which the EU Treaties cease to apply to the UK in order to avoid “serious problems and uncertainty with regard to the domestic statute book”.

The statutory instrument (SI) to change the date of exit day cannot come into force unless it is approved by both Houses of Parliament. Neither House can amend the SI. Both Houses have the power to reject SIs, but they have used this power only rarely. The House of Lords is due to debate the SI on 27 March 2019. This briefing provides background information about the legal context in EU and domestic law and parliamentary procedures relating to debate on this SI.

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