The Government introduced the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – or the so-called ‘Great Repeal Bill’ as they used to describe it – in the House of Commons in July and it will be debated over the coming months. Its purpose is to repeal the European Communities Act 1972, which incorporates EU law into our domestic law, but to retain that law by transposing it directly into domestic UK law. But Labour has serious concerns about how the Government plan to replace these 40 years’ worth of rules, using ‘Henry VIII powers’ that mean they can make and change laws without securing the approval of MPs.
Labour voted against the Bill at Second Reading in October and have tabled a number of amendments to repair the Bill. Following several delays, the Committee stage finally began on 14th November and it is taking place over eight days for the next few weeks. I’ve been leading for Labour’s front bench on some of the amendments and you can read all of the contributions I have made so far here and here. Unfortunately the Government has voted down our attempts to improve the Bill but we will continue to press on over the next few weeks and at the Report Stage.
In summary, our six main concerns with the Repeal Bill are that:
1. It proposes sweeping delegated powers but lacks effective oversight or accountability. In particular, the Bill could allow delegated powers to be used very late in negotiations to cover significant policy changes. This is fundamentally undemocratic and unacceptable.
2. It lacks clear enforcement mechanisms. Without remedies, key rights such as workplace rights or environmental standards could become unenforceable.
3. It does not include the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. This codifies human rights in EU law and UK law in modern form and includes important protections in evolving areas such as privacy protections, discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and rights for the elderly. Failure to include the Charter will impact the way that rights are interpreted in UK courts.
4. It takes the wrong approach on devolution and does not ensure effective involvement of devolved administrations. There should be a clear presumption of devolution. Without this, the Bill is a significant power grab for Whitehall and fails to capitalise on the potential for further devolution of power to the nations and regions of the UK.
5. It does not include any provision to ensure that UK rights keep pace with EU rights after Brexit. This could lead to UK rights lagging behind the EU over time in areas such as workplace, consumer or equality protections or environmental standards.
6. There can be no qualifications, limitations or sunset clauses attached to this Bill. If there are, Labour will not support it. In addition, Labour will block the use of delegated legislation to the same effect.
We are also concerned that the Bill mirrors the Government’s wider and deeply flawed red-line that would prevent any future role for the European Court of Justice – a position that is making it far harder for the UK to get a Brexit deal in the national interest or to secure proper transitional arrangements. Read my article with Shadow Secretary of State Keir Starmer about how this will impact on jobs and nuclear safety here.
Finally, Labour completely rejects the notion that no deal is better than a bad deal with our EU partners. No deal is a bad deal – it would compromise everything from the way we keep our country safe by sharing data and intelligence with our European neighbours, to plunging our businesses into chaos. So Labour is pushing for the Government to take the prospect of ‘no deal’ off the table, and to commit to a transition period so that organisations, from law enforcement agencies to businesses, can plan properly for the future.