On Thursday of last week (23 January), Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans rose in the House of Commons to declare ‘I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that Her Majesty has signified her assent to the following Act: European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020.’
Some observers appeared to believe that at that point the Bill had become and Act and took effect. However, a Bill does not become an Act until the announcement of Royal Assent is made in the second house. Until 1967, a Bill became an Act when it was pronounced in the House of Lords in the presence of both Houses. Black Rod would summon the Commons to hear Royal Assent announced. This procedure interrupted debate in the Commons and as a result annoyed many MPs. As a result, the Royal Assent Act was enacted in 1967, which provided that, as an alternative to this procedure (which may still be employed), an Act is duly enacted when Royal Assent ‘is notified to each House of Parliament, sitting separately, by the Speaker of that House or in the case of his absence by the person acting as such Speaker’. In the case of the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill, it became an Act shortly after 6.00 p.m. when the Lord Speaker, Lord Fowler, made the same announcement as made earlier by Nigel Evans.
However, that was not the point at which the Act came into force. Under section 4 of the Interpretation Act 1978 an Act comes into force at the beginning of the day where provision is made for it to come into force or, if no provision is made, at the beginning of the day on which the Act receives Royal Assent. The EU Act provided that many of its sections came into force on the day on which it was passed. They therefore took effect at the beginning of Thursday.