On Sunday, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, announced what contingencies the government are looking at operating in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Are they foreseeable?

Martial Law is defined as:

A “military government,” involving the suspension of ordinary law.”

Martial Law usually involves the imposition of curfews, censorship, travel bans and a suspension of civil rights.

When asked on the Andrew Marr show whether the government is looking at using martial law, Hancock responded that while it is “not specifically” an option the government are looking at, it “remains on the statute book.”

In the United Kingdom there is not actually a provision for martial law in statute, nor would it be in the government’s interest to declare martial law. Hancock was more than likely referring to the controversial Civil Contingencies Act 2004, which was passed under Tony Blair’s Labour government.

Under the Civil Contingencies Act, there may be an imposition of curfews, censorship and travel bans but our rights under the Human Rights Act are protected.

What is the Civil Contingencies Act 2004?

  • The CCA was enacted following fuel protests in 2000, 9/11 and the foot and mouth disease breakout in 2003. The government was of the opinion that the United Kingdom had an outdated national emergency contingency system.
  • The CCA allows for the government to have additional powers in the event of an “emergency”.
  • An emergency is widely defined under section one of the CCA, covering any event which threatens serious damage to human welfare and environment of a place in the United Kingdom or threatens the security of the United Kingdom. All of which can arguably apply to what can happen in the event of a no deal Brexit.
  • The CCA allows the government to temporarily amend any legislation, bar the Human Rights Act 1998 and sections of the CCA itself, for a period of up to thirty days unless parliament votes to extend the duration of any temporary amendment.
  • Opposition MPs at the time criticised the definition of an emergency in the CCA as too broad and also failed in an effort to include seven primary legislation of “constitutional importance” under the list of unamendable statute.

This development comes just a day before the Prime Minister directed conservative MPs to vote for an amendment in Parliament that would push through her withdrawal agreement but replace the backstop with “alternative arrangements.”

This is likely to annoy a large portion of the EU 27 who are in near-unanimous opposition to removing the backstop from the withdrawal agreement. The European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, has stood firm on his assertion that the EU will not be renegotiating the withdrawal agreement. The Taoiseach (Ireland’s prime minister) has also previously voiced reluctance to remove the controversial backstop.

Sabine Weyland, the EU’s deputy chief Brexit negotiator said today that it is a “big challenge” for parliament to secure a majority on any withdrawal agreement. She also poured cold water on the prospect of the EU reopening negotiations with the UK on Brexit.