Widely considered to be one the of the most complex and significant pieces of legislation ever seen in this country, the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - also known as the Repeal Bill - has wide ranging ramifications for civil society. Concerned with the very broad powers being given to ministers without proper parliamentary scrutiny, Unlock Democracy has joined with over 70 organisations from across civil society to call on the government to seriously rethink its approach. If Brexit is about taking back control, then it simply can’t mean undertaking a transfer of unaccountable powers to the executive.
The process proposed by the bill - of transferring all EU law into domestic law - is anything but simple. Making sure that the laws, rules and regulations that govern us are the same the day after Brexit as they were the day before is a big task. Since the European Communities Act 1972 was passed, all laws, rules and regulations coming from the EU have taken supremacy over UK law. While some of these laws have already been put directly into UK law by Parliament, some haven’t been.
To solve this problem, the government has proposed handing delegated powers to ministers, who will be able to ‘edit’ laws to make sure they work the day after Brexit. Delegated legislation - a little understood and rarely discussed legislative mechanism - are only meant to be used to make small edits to our laws - the sorts of technical changes that don’t need MPs to scrutinise in a debate and then approve in a vote, like they do for an Act of Parliament. A cause for concern for many organisations in civil society are how broad the scope of the delegated powers in the bill are, and the lack of opportunities there will be for MPs to scrutinise what ministers will actually be doing with the powers in practice.
What is currently being proposed by the government could amount to a worrying transfer of unaccountable power to ministers. With so many sectors affected - from human rights, environment, consumer rights, workers’ rights, and equality, all the way through to democracy, transparency, food, farming, education, and trade - there is both a need and appetite to collaborate on the bill.
Leaving the EU could be an opportunity for greater public engagement in shaping what the future of our country looks like, and this process should start with the Repeal Bill. The Alliance is campaigning for a high standards UK, with open and accountable lawmaking central to the Brexit process, and where there is meaningful engagement from the devolved nations. To truly take back control democratic processes and robust parliamentary scrutiny should be built in throughout the Brexit process, from start to finish.
Given the timing and the complexity of the Repeal Bill there is an urgent need to bring together expertise from all areas of civil society, to make sure lawmakers and opinion formers understand the challenges the bill poses. Politicians must come to understand that taking back control necessarily involves hearing voices from across civil society, to make sure we all have a say in how the future of the UK is going to be shaped rather than this be a conversation had only by an elite few. For Unlock Democracy, that process starts with the Repeal Bill.
Visit the Repeal Bill Alliance’s website for more information: www.repealbill.org