GlennB wrote:...Is "no deal" actually on the statute books? I thought it was merely the default if we get to Brexit day without an explicit deal being on the statute books, as it were.
Yes. The European Union Withdrawal Act 2018 passed through both Houses of Parliament on 20 June 2018 and it became law by Royal Assent on 26 June 2018. It is on the Statute Books. It provides for repealing the European Communities Act 1972, i.e. the act that took the UK into the European Economic Community, and for Parliamentary approval of a withdrawal agreement. It states that the UK will leave the EU on Exit Day and it defines that as 29 March 2019. It can only be repealed by another Act of Parliament which would need to pass through all the normal parliamentary procedures of both the Commons and the House of Lords. If a Withdrawal Agreement is not agreed then we leave at 11 pm GMT on 29 March 2019 with no Withdrawal Agreement.
It might be possible to change the date with a Statutory Instrument, which is less arduous to get through parliament, but I am not absolutely certain. Statutory Instruments are normally used to add
detail to an Act that lays down general principles and I am not certain if they can be used to change
something specific in an Act. For example if the Withdrawal Act had stated that the UK will leave the EU on Exit Day but had not defined when Exit Day was then a Statutory Instrument could be used to define the date of Exit Day. Unfortunately, and rather foolishly, that wasn't done.
People tend to talk about 29 March 2019 as if it had some sacrosanct, mystical significance. It is simply 2 years after the date Theresa May decided to trigger Article 50 and that date was a completely arbitrary, politically driven, decision. You could argue she should have triggered Article 50 on the day the referendum decision was known. Equally you could argue that she should not have triggered Article 50 until she had put in place all necessary mechanisms to deal with leaving the EU whatever the outcome of the negotiation was, or any date in between. It should also be noted that no significant member state had ever left the EU so when Article 50 was written the idea that the withdrawal agreement could be finalised in 2 years was a bit of a guess; it had never been done so nobody knew.