Brexit: MPs to begin scrutiny of vital withdrawal bill

Theresa May speaking in the House of CommonsImage copyright

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Labour says the government will use Brexit to accrue huge new powers

MPs from all parties have been urged to “work with” the government to pass its main Brexit bill as they prepare to begin debating the legislation.

The EU (Withdrawal) Bill will end the supremacy of EU law in the UK dating back more than 40 years but convert all existing EU laws into domestic ones.

Labour says it will vote against the bill as it stands, saying it amounts to a huge power grab by the executive.

Ministers say it is an “essential foundation” for post-Brexit Britain.

The UK is due to leave the EU at the end of March 2019 following last year’s referendum vote.

Negotiations between the two sides on the terms of exit are ongoing, with the European Union publishing its latest set of position papers, including one on the crucial issue of the future of the Irish border, on Thursday.

The government has insisted that the withdrawal legislation, informally known as the repeal bill, will provide legal and practical certainty for the UK as it prepares for life outside the 28-member bloc.

While overturning the 1972 European Communities Act which took the UK into the then European Economic Community, the legislation will ensure all direct EU laws applying to the UK will be transferred onto the statute book and continue to have legal force after the UK’s withdrawal.

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MPs will begin considering the general principles of the bill at Second Reading on Thursday, although the first votes will not take place until Monday.

With the government certain of the support of the Democratic Unionists, with whom they have a Commons pact, the bill is expected to clear its first parliamentary hurdle but Labour have vowed to oppose it, while some Conservative backbenchers have said they reserve the right to amend and improve it at a later stage.


By BBC political correspondent Ben Wright

The main aim of this legislation is to incorporate, rather than repeal, 40 years of relevant EU law onto the UK statute book. It is intended to ensure there is no legal chaos on the day Britain leaves the EU in March 2019.

At the start of its second reading in the Commons, Brexit Secretary David Davis will say this “essential” bill maximises certainty for businesses and consumers.

But unusually, the government is facing a parliamentary battle to clear this early hurdle, with Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Scottish and Welsh Nationalists lined up to oppose the Bill.

Their main objection is at what they see as a power grab by ministers who will be able to change some laws without the usual parliamentary scrutiny.

Tory MPs sceptical about the government’s Brexit will not vote with opposition parties next week. But ministers are braced for an arduous fight as this bill goes through Parliament

Labour has claimed that it will give the government sweeping powers to alter or scrap existing regulations after Brexit without the approval of Parliament, through what is known as secondary legislation or statutory instruments that are not routinely debated.


The government says that up to 1,000 statutory instruments will be needed to modify EU laws that become obsolete or do not operate as they should after Brexit but any corrections will be largely technical in nature.

But critics say the so-called Henry VIII powers could be used to amend primary legislation in a whole of range of important areas under the guise of addressing legal deficiencies and anomalies.

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The European Communities Act passed under Edward Heath will be repealed

A Labour spokesman said: “In this bill, the government is making a power grab to change a whole set of legislation and rules without recourse to Parliament.

“That ranges from the date of Brexit to the amount of money paid to the EU to employment and social legislation and environmental legislation. Under the proposals, the Brexit secretary can make these changes at the stroke of a pen. That is completely undemocratic.”

But appealing for their support, Brexit Secretary David Davis challenged MPs to come up with any existing major rights that would not be carried forward through the legislation.

“We are not rejecting EU law, but embracing the work done between member states in over 40 years of membership and using that solid foundation to build on in the future,” he said.

“I hope everyone in this House recognises this bill’s essential nature – it is the foundation upon which we will legislate for years to come – and I look forward to working with the whole House to deliver the bill.”

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