After much speculation, the Government has now published details of its so-called ‘Great Repeal Bill’. It is safe to say that majority of people will have found it a great disappointment.
The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will repeal the 1972 European Communities Act, bringing an end to Britain’s membership of the European Union. European laws will no longer take precedence over UK laws and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice will be removed. So just how much control are we taking back?
Untangling European law will be a messy affair. In reality, if and when the Bill becomes the European Union (Withdrawl) Act, it simply means that all existing EU legislation will become UK law. This is to ensure the process of leaving the European Union runs as smoothly as possible. Parliament will then decide which European laws it wants to keep, get rid of or amend.
However, this will be easier said than done as the House of Lords’ Constitution Committee warned that EU law is found in many different places in many different forms. The ‘Great Repeal Bill’ must become an Act of Parliament before Britain’s official exit from the European Union on 29 March 2019. Due to the complexity of detangling EU law, the Committee is concerned that the Government will use some of the delegated powers outlined within the Bill.
This means that the Government will potentially be able to amend legislation on everything from workers’ rights to food standards and banking regulations without the agreement of Parliament. Brexit Secretary David Davis has stated any major changes to UK law will be voted on through primary legislation. However, if the Government finds itself running out of time it will not put at risk the entire Brexit process for the sake of Parliamentary scrutiny.
The re-election of Remain supporter Hilary Benn MP as Chair of the Select Committee on Exiting the EU could throw another spanner in the works. Keir Starmer, the Shadow Brexit secretary, has warned the Government that Labour will vote against the ‘Great Repeal Bill’ if it does not get a number of concessions including protecting workers’ rights, copying the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights in UK law and limiting the use of delegated powers. Starmer has denied that Labour are trying to block Brexit however just a few votes against the ‘Great Repeal Bill’ could be catastrophic.
As well as a potential collision course with Westminster, Theresa May could face a battle with the devolved administrations who must also agree to the Bill under the Sewel Convention. A joint statement (released mere hours after the Bill was published) from Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon states that they cannot support the ‘Great Repeal Bill’ in its present form.
The Government will therefore most likely be forced in to making several concessions Labour is seeking such as retaining the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights. Opposition parties are likely to threaten to derail the Bill if they believe they are not getting enough control over what laws stay and what laws go. Far from being strong and stable, Theresa May’s government is looking increasingly weak and wobbly.