The government has today unveiled its plans to transfer European laws into UK law, through the Repeal Bill, formerly known as the Great Repeal Bill, which will soon be voted on by Parliament. It makes for one of the most vital aspects of Brexit legislation, and a vote against it could bring down the government.
The Liberal Democrats have vowed to make the prime minister’s life “hell” by fighting a “parliamentary version of guerrilla warfare” to prevent the bill from passing. Labour and Lib Dem lawmakers are particularly worried about the power it’ll hand to the government to ‘adapt and edit’ laws, making them suitable for transfer.
Labour have pledged to push the government with amendments to the bill, asking for more protections for women and workers.
And the Scottish and Welsh First Ministers, Nicola Sturgeon and Carwyn Jones, said the bill is “a naked power-grab, an attack on the founding principles of devolution and could destabilise our economies.”
Downing Street are facing a heaving parliamentary battle to get this legislation through, and could even be defeated.
The bill consists of three main components: repeal of the European Communities Act, conversion of European law and creating new powers for ministers, as explained below.
Repeal of the European Communities Act 1972
The European Communities Act was the piece of legislation that took Britain into the European Union. It’s primary purpose was to identify EU law as supreme to British statute law, therefore allowing EU law to override British law wherever a conflict was found.
Repealing the Act means British statute laws, passed by the British parliament, will once again be supreme to any other law in the land.
Conversion of European law
There’s currently a raft of legislation that we abide by as EU law, but they’re not in the British statute book. Before making British law supreme, the government has therefore decided to convert all EU laws into domestic UK law.
As a result, all laws and regulations made while the UK was a member of the European Union will continue to apply once we leave, and MPs will have the power to repeal or amend any of the converted laws, after Britain leaves the European Union.
This also ends the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice over Britain, it will seize to have the power to interpret UK law.
The Bill states that if the government were to repeal the European Communities Act without converting EU law, it would leave “large holes in the statute book.
“To avoid this, the Bill will convert directly applicable EU laws into UK law.”
Creating new powers for Ministers
While transferring EU laws, the Bill will create new powers for Ministers to be able to amend the transferred laws after Britain has left the Union.
Ministers will receive delegated powers from the government, allowing them to make changes to some laws without full Parliamentary scrutiny.
MPs have already lashed out against this, calling it undemocratic.
Far from being 'technical', #GreatRepealBill is huge attack on our democracy: Gov wants unlimited power to amend law. We will fight this.
— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) March 30, 2017
“This will enable corrections to be made to the laws that would otherwise no longer operate appropriately once we have left the EU, so that our legal system continues to function correctly outside the EU,” the Bill states.
Introduction of statutory instruments
Some of the transferred EU laws will simply not work in the UK statute book, so the government plans to introduce new legislation to solve any issues.
The White Paper states that the government “estimate that the necessary corrections to the law will require between 800 and 1,000 statutory instruments.”
Much has been said about giving the devolved administrations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland more powers, as we repatriate sovereignty from EU institutions to British legislatures.
However, the Great Repeal Bill doesn’t explicitly state a guarantee that repatriated EU powers will go to devolved institutions.