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MPs fail to appear to consider key Brexit legislation

The government’s Brexit legislation is not being properly scrutinized because MPs are not showing up for parliamentary sessions, sources say.

A new report by constitutional experts at the Institute for Government describes how scrutiny of EU affairs has “shrunk” and become a “niche activity” on the green benches.

Figures compiled by researchers show that Labor MPs in particular want to “avoid looking back at Brexit” for political reasons, it says.

The average attendance of Labor MPs in Parliament’s European Scrutiny Committee has been below 50 per cent in the last parliamentary sessions since the Brexit vote.

And when a regular Labor MP attending the sessions is discounted, other Labor MPs have attended just 11 per cent of the sessions open to them.

The Committee is examining developments in the UK’s relationship with the EU, including the Withdrawal Agreement.

Despite oodles of Brexit-related legislation still making its way through Whitehall – and Liz Truss’ plan to repeal all EU laws in the years to come – Brexit has also disappeared from the main chamber of the House of Commons.

The IfG researchers note that the number of Brexit-related pressing issues in the House of Commons has fallen from 45 in the 2017-19 session to under 15 in the 2019-21 session.

And special parliamentary committees barely touch on the issue, with only seven out of 235 inquiries made by committees on post-Brexit issues since the 2019 general election.

Jill Rutter, a senior fellow at the Institute for Government and author of the report, said Parliament needs to start carefully examining government decisions.

“Britain is still struggling with the consequences of Brexit and will continue to do so for years to come. But for now, it suits both the government and the opposition to evade scrutiny of how the government is handling the post-Brexit relationship with the EU and its aftermath,” she said.

“Parliament must make the retaking of control a reality and ensure that the government is properly held accountable for what it does and does not do.”

The report proposes reforming the European Audit Committee so that its chair is elected, rather than simply arch-Eurosceptic Bill Cash, who has chaired the board unelected since 2010.

It also says that given the ongoing acute impact of Brexit on the territory, MPs of Northern Ireland should be given a stronger role and perhaps their own scrutiny committee.

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