14th July 2017
Yesterday, the Government published its long-awaited – but no longer Great – Repeal Bill. Formally titled the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, the Bill begins the process of repealing and replacing the thousands of EU rulings and regulations that form part of UK law. Designed to simply transpose existing EU law into the UK statute book – with the intention of later repealing and replacing unfavourable laws – the Bill sounds like a brilliantly simple answer to a complex problem.
The reality, however, is that this process will be a serious challenge to the legal, regulatory and democratic principles of the country. Figures by the EU’s Euro-Lex have found that over 5,000 EU regulations currently directly apply in the UK, and are made up of laws, judgments by the Court of Justice and rulings by EU regulators. Deciding which parts of this will need to adopted or amended will be a massive task, which will require thousands of parliamentary debating hours and hundreds of dedicated civil servants.
Fears that the sheer volume of work may limit Parliament’s ability to scrutinise the changes effectively and will result in Government utilising so called ‘Henry VIII powers’ – legislating through delegated and secondary legislation with little parliamentary scrutiny – are well founded. Government is yet to responded to calls by the House of Lords’ Constitution Select Committee for “sunset clauses”, to make the changes to laws temporary, to be included within the most contentious changes. Demands by MPs for a bespoke arrangement for handling the large volume of secondary legislation being introduced, including a dedicated scrutiny body in parliament, have also gone unanswered.
The Opposition have already criticised the approach of the Government, and Sir Keir Starmer, Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, has made it clear Labour intends to vote against the Bill, without significant reassurance and safeguards included. Both Nicola Sturgeon and Carwyn Jones have also expressed their concern at the increased concentration of power in Westminster, calling the Bill a “political power grab”. With such heavy opposition, the Prime Minister can expect her process of transposing EU law into UK law, as outlined in the Repeal Bill, to be heavily challenged in Parliament and the devolved administrations. But whatever emerges as the resulting Bill, the possibility of mistakes being made, and the likely lack of democratic scrutiny over changes as the UK looks to leave the EU will remain an important issue and one that could have major implications through the Brexit process and beyond.
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