The Repeal Bill: Our first impressions

Yesterday the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (or as we have come to know it “the Repeal Bill”) was published. This is one of the most broad and constitutionally significant bills to go through Parliament and will have massive ramifications for us all, and future generations. We’re still going through the fine print but here are our initial thoughts.

What is the Repeal Bill?

The Repeal Bill is the way the government will make Brexit happen. It will repeal the European Communities Act 1972, which sets out our relationship with the EU. The Bill has two key functions - change existing EU rules into UK law, and implement the withdrawal deal.

What did we know already?

We know the importance of the Bill. Described by Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, David Davis, as “one of the most significant pieces of legislation that has ever passed through Parliament”, the Repeal Bill will have long term and long lasting consequences for the UK.

The main function of the Bill is to convert all existing EU laws and regulations into UK laws so there is certainty about what will happen when we leave the EU. However it is not as simple as just “copying and pasting” from one law to another- some of them will contain references to EU institutions that may not have jurisdiction in the UK after we leave.

The Bill will need to give unprecedented numbers of delegated powers to Ministers and it is important that there is a strong scrutiny process to oversee how these powers are used. Without this it would be possible for Ministers to make big changes to workers rights, regulations on what you can put in baby food or clean air standards, on their own.

What do we know from the Repeal Bill now?

  1. This is one of the most broad and constitutionally significant bills to go through parliament and will have massive ramifications for us all, and future generations. This bill is not just about process, it’s about power.   

  2. We also know that taking back control from Europe will not give any more powers to the devolved nations- in fact, both the Welsh and Scottish governments see it as an attack on devolution and a threat to their existing powers. The devolved governments will not be able to undo or change anything that is decided by delegated legislation in Westminster. Both Nicola Sturgeon and Carwyn Jones may refuse to give legislative consent because of this. Whilst this isn’t legally binding, it creates huge political tensions and in the past has led to bills being tweaked in line with what the devolved nations want.

  3. The scrutiny procedures set out in the Bill fall far short of what is needed. Parliament will simply not have the capacity to scrutinise the vast volume of delegated legislation involved using their old broken systems.

  4. The Charter of Fundamental Rights will not be incorporated into UK law, so we will lose some rights. The Charter can be seen as the overarching framework for human rights in the EU and includes a wide range of civil, political, economic and social rights. As it is contained in a treaty rather than a law, it will not be part of the ‘copy and paste’. In the immediate aftermath of the publication of the Bill this is the clause that has caused the most contestation, and one where the Labour Party says it will oppose the government.

  5. We know the government has listened regarding Sunset Clauses. This was initially suggested by the House of Lords, and means that the government can use those powers for 2 years but if it needs them for longer than that, parliament has to give consent.

  6. The government has included some limits on the use of delegated powers - this means that delegated legislation cannot be used to impose or increase taxation, create a criminal offence etc. However these do not go far enough.

The Repeal Bill is a long and complicated piece of legislation. These are our first thoughts but what do you think?

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