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What is "exit day"?

Editorial Staff

The European Union (Exit) Act, as originally drawn, defined exit day as "such day as a Minister of the Crown may be regulations appoint" but that was later amended. But even now, it's not as fixed as it appears.

Section 14 of the Act is entitled "interpretation" but in most cases it's definitions. In Subsection 1, we find "exit day" (which, throughout the Act does not have capital letters even though it has all the hallmarks of a proper noun). As is the fashion with modern UK legislation, definitions are collected up and published after ordinary expressions have been used in a non-ordinary way which means that one puzzles, concludes, then finds out later whether or not one was correct but only if the cause of that puzzlement is found in the definitions section.

The amendment says that it now means 29th March 2019 at 11 p.m. That's a Friday. The clocks change for the start of British Summer Time at midnight on Saturday 30th March.

However, there is also a note to see subsections 2 to 5. Subsection 2 has been deleted. Subsection 3 is an astonishingly garbled explanation of what is before and after 11 p.m, made worse by several amendments. The current version reads "in this Act, references to before, after or on exit day, or to beginning on exit day, are to be read as references to before, after or at 11 p.m. on 29th March 2019 or (as the case may be) to beginning with 11 p.m. on that day."

So,that's cocked up. In trying to over-define, the moment of 11 p.m. is specifically expressed to be defined in multiple ways. The word "with" should have read "immediately after" and, to make it even simpler the previous period should have been defined as "up to and including the moment of 11 p.m.

Subsection 4 contains an internal reference that actually does nothing. Read this:

"Subsection (4) applies if the day or time on or at which the Treaties are to cease to apply to the United Kingdom in accordance with Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union is different from that specified in the definition of “exit day” in subsection (1)."

That's all it says. It does not say "if Ss4 applies, then....." It's a drafting error that has arisen from, again, the modern form of drafting in UK law under which there is a statement of what is going to happen, then a statement that makes it happen. In this case, ss4 is supposed to say that ss5 will apply in some circumstances and ss5 is the operative subsection. What ss5 says that, if it applies, a Minister may "by regulations" (that is a statutory instrument made under delegated authority) decide to change the definition (and here the draftsman calls it a "definition" not an "interpretation") to whatever coincides with the date and time that the Treaties cease to apply and, if that happens, to amend the definition in ss2 i.e. 29th March 2019 at 11 p.m.

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