Introduction to parliamentary oversight on matters relating to the EU

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32.1Parliamentary scrutiny of EU legislation, legislative proposals, policies and programmes took place throughout the UK's membership of the European Union. Following the UK's withdrawal from the European Union, arrangements remain in place to scrutinise those aspects of EU proposals which remain relevant to the UK, such as documents which engage the UK/EU Withdrawal Agreement's Protocol on Northern Ireland. The provision of scrutiny processes in respect of EU legislative and other activity in the longer term, remains under consideration. This chapter first considers the arrangements for the scrutiny of the withdrawal process and then sets out a high-level description of the processes for scrutinising EU legislation which prevailed during the UK's membership in order to provide context to the consideration of scrutiny processes in the future. More detail of the procedures for scrutinising European legislation can be found in previous editions.1

Committees of both Houses scrutinised the Government's actions in giving effect to the result of the 2016 referendum, in particular its negotiations with the European Commission's ‘Task Force 50’ (representing the other 27 EU Member States) on the terms of withdrawal, and on the terms of the future UK-EU relationship. In the House of Commons, the Exiting the European Union Committee2 and its successor, the Committee on the Future Relationship with the EU, and the European Scrutiny Committee played key roles in scrutiny of the withdrawal process, as did the European Union Committee in the House of Lords, but other committees also engaged closely on matters where EU exit was relevant to their remit.

The process of leaving the European Union required the creation of dedicated arrangements to scrutinise the Government's proposals for transitional and post-exit arrangements. The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 contains very broad powers for Ministers to amend existing primary and secondary legislation as a consequence of the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972. This chapter focuses on those orders. Other arrangements relating to implementing withdrawal or dealing with the consequences of withdrawal are addressed in individual statutes, which may themselves confer order-making powers of the sort dealt with in the chapter on delegated legislation.3

The parliaments of Member States of the European Union (EU) affect the transaction of EU business, and the actions of the institutions of the Union, mainly by influencing and calling to account Ministers of national governments in their capacity as members of the Council of the European Union (formerly the Council of Ministers, and usually referred to as ‘the Council’). Both Houses of the United Kingdom Parliament have established systematic methods of scrutiny of EU documents, through the European Scrutiny Committee in the House of Commons (see paras 32.13 and 38.72 ) and the Select Committee on the European Union and its successor the European Affairs Committee in the House of Lords (see paras 32.14 and 40.51 ) (‘the scrutiny committees’).


  1. 1. Erskine May (24th edn, 2011), p 701 ff.
  2. 2. For details on the Exiting the EU Committee, see Chapter 38.
  3. 3. See, for example, the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018.