The “Great” British Repeal Bill is the most significant part of British legislation to be introduced in the United Kingdom for decades to come.
On the surface, it would appear that the purpose of the Bill is to bring EU law into domestic UK law and create continuity after what the bill calls “exit day”. It would allow for the Government to propose which bits should be retained or tossed.
The problem is how it would do that.
Henry VIII powers
It is expected that laws will allow ministers to change legislation by going through parliament with little or no scrutiny.
Ministers argue that they need the powers because leaving the EU will require a vast amount of laws to be rewritten and that many of the changes that will be made to legislation using Henry VIII powers will be technical.
Why this is a nightmare
Significant parts of EU law are already part of UK legislation, as well as a lot of judgments made by the Court of Justice, or rulings by EU regulators. Britain has about 18 months to decide which ones will be adopted and which ones won’t, and the only way to do this is by bypassing Parliament in some or most of the decisions.
However, this is dangerous.
There have been no announcements of new safeguards to prevent the government from simply rewriting a substantial amount of British legislation “at the swipe of a pen”. Even calls from the Lords to promise to insert clauses to make the changes to laws temporary have not been met either.
The EU (withdrawal) Bill, published today – known as the “Great Repeal Bill”-, includes a clause which says: “The Charter of Fundamental Rights is not part of domestic law on or after exit day.”
This means that it explicitly chooses not to incorporate human rights under EU law as part of British legislation.
There is a well-founded fear that this will lead to less protection of the rights guaranteed under current EU legislation and it’s a main point of opposition.
Labour is demanding the Bill includes full protection of rights for British workers and consumers, of environmental standards and the devolution of powers across the country.
Even when Labour MPs are not a majority in Parliament, it’s expected that neither the Scottish Conservative MPs nor the Liberal Democrats will support a smooth passing of the Bill.
It is very likely that the Bill will meet serious opposition unless substantial amendments are introduced including the introduction of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the softening of its overwhelming powers given to Downing Street.
The clock is ticking.