This Bill has been referred to as the Great Repeal Bill, and is the piece of legislation that needs to be passed to prepare the UK for its departure from the European Union.
The main functions of the Bill are to:
Repeal the European Communities Act, remove supremacy of EU law and return control to the UK.
Convert EU law into UK law where appropriate and to transfer powers from EU institutions to British ones.
Create the necessary temporary powers to correct laws for up to two years after Brexit without a vote in Parliament.*
*These powers that the Bill gives to the Government to change laws are sometimes referred to as “Henry VIII” clauses - so named from the Statute of Proclamations 1539 which gave King Henry VIII power to legislate by just announcing laws.
At the moment, under the European Communities Act 1972, EU laws are given effect in the UK and are given supremacy over UK domestic law. When the UK leaves the EU, these laws that originated in the EU will have to be incorporated into domestic law or, if they will no longer be appropriate as they refer to a function of the EU, they will have to be corrected or repealed. This means that on the day after the UK leaves the EU, the law will continue to work properly and businesses, consumers and workers will not experience unexpected changes.
The Government has described this Bill as “one of the most significant pieces of legislation that has ever passed through Parliament and is a major milestone in the process of our withdrawal from the European Union”. This Bill is crucial in implementing Brexit, as it also allows the Government to implement elements of the withdrawal agreement it expects to reach with the EU.
The Bill itself does not aim to make major changes to policy or establish new laws in the UK beyond those which are necessary to ensure the law continues to function properly from day one after Brexit. Seven further bills, each intended to implement substantive policy changes in UK law following withdrawal from the EU, were announced in the Queen’s Speech in June 2017: it is anticipated that these and other “Brexit Bills” will also amend or replace retained EU law and implement the withdrawal agreement (assuming there is one) in specific policy areas, such as immigration.
The Bill provides the legislative mechanisms to create the post-Brexit constitution, it does not fill in the gaps of the policy areas that Brexit will create. These gaps can only be filled in once the withdrawal agreement (currently being negotiated) is known, and the subsequent “Brexit Bills” are produced.
This Bill was introduced by David Davis MP, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.
Because this Bill is crucial to implementing Brexit, there will automatically be opposition from those that do not want to leave the EU at all.
The “Henry VIII” clause is already attracting a lot of attention and criticism for not being democratic, and the media is reporting that thousands of corrections could be made to laws without MPs necessarily voting on them.
Within Parliament one of the points of debate will be the fact that the Bill will not transfer European human rights laws into UK law after Brexit. The Bill says “the charter of fundamental rights is not part of domestic law on or after exit day”. Labour have said that the incorporation of the charter on fundamental rights, which interprets EU human rights, is one of the six tests that will apply when they decide whether to vote for the Bill. The Liberal Democrats have also made it a key demand. The human rights charities Liberty and Amnesty International have issued a joint statement opposing this Bill for its omission of human rights laws.
Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, Sir Keir Starmer MP has said that Labour is prepared to block the legislation. He said:
“This is not about frustrating the process, it is not giving the Government a blank cheque to pass powers into the hands of ministers. Even when it comes to transitional measures the Bill makes clear that the role, for example, of the European Court of Justice will be extinguished. You might say ‘well that is consistent with leaving’ but it puts the date of extinguishing into the hands of the secretary of state and not Parliament. These are very, very wide powers and we can’t just give a blank cheque to the Government.
There is also opposition to the Bill in Scotland and Wales. The First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon MSP, and First Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones AM, issued a joint statement opposing the Bill, calling it a “power-grab” by the Government as it restricts the Welsh and Scottish Parliament’s ability to legislate on laws transferred to the devolved assemblies from the EU.
How to get involved
Contact your MP, all MPs will be voting on this Bill as it progresses through Parliament.
Charities such as Liberty and Amnesty International are also campaigning on the human rights aspects of this Bill.
If I don’t act, will it go through?
This is a Government Bill, traditionally Government Bills make it through parliament and into law. This Government does not have a majority and will face some tough opposition on this Bill, however the DUP have agreed to support the Government on all Brexit votes.