The repeal bill, Henry VIII and Theresa May

13 July 2017 - by Claire Flynn

The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill has been published.

Today the government published the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill  the legislation which will formally enact Brexit and ensure that European law no longer applies in the UK.

The bill will repeal the 1972 European Communities Act, which gives EU law instant effect in the UK and prevent a legal 'black hole' existing after Brexit. The aim for this legislation to is to convert all EU requirements into British law as soon as the UK exits, to ensure that disruption to business and individual citizens is avoided. As EU laws are debated, there is likely to be a number of requests for changes from MPs, peers and third parties; however, it is not yet clear how negotiations will play out.

The legislation also ends the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK.

This repeal bill, which will significantly reshape the constitutional foundations of the UK, gives the government a range of powers, including Henry VIII powers  namely the ability to change primary law with limited supervision. This presents obvious concerns for any democratically elected parliament, where there is the possibility of ministers and civil servants implementing policy decisions without parliamentary say.

Funnily enough, we have the same issue in Northern Ireland. While civil servants may have the ability and experience to implement policies effectively and efficiently, what is lacking is the ability or opportunity to capture public opinion in order to establish policies. In a well-functioning democracy these roles should not operate in isolation.

Labour, while minded not to frustrate the Brexit process, have drawn lines already. Sir Keir Starmer’s rejection of the bill in its current form promises future amendments to incorporate the European Charter of Fundamental Rights into British law as well as others covering workers’ rights and environmental causes.

While the bill will probably pass through the House of Commons, it may face tougher opposition at the House of Lords. With both Scottish and Welsh political leaders jointly indicating unhappiness with the bill in its current form, describing it as a "naked power grab", we can expect some long debates, crossed fingers and many cross words to come.