Remain campaigners have threatened ‘legislative warfare’ that will grind Parliament to a halt on the massive Great Repeal Bill unveiled by David Davis today.
Campaigner Gina Miller raised another headache for the Brexit Secretary by revealing she was seeking advice on a new legal challenge over executive powers contained in the plans.
Mr Davis today published more details of his sweeping plans to transfer EU laws on to the UK statute book.
This legislation does not delete EU laws from the statute book but changes them and means after 2019 Parliament will be free to amend or remove them at will for the first time in decades.
Once Brexit is finished, EU red tape such as working time restrictions, a ban on traditional light bulbs and limits on vacuum cleaners can in future be freely changed.
Mr Davis is facing a political and legal battle over the inclusions of ‘Henry VIII’ executive powers to tweak around 1,000 of the laws to ensure they function properly after Brexit.
Ms Miller told BBC Radio 5 Live: ‘The Government has already blotted its copybook by trying to bypass Parliament and use the Royal Prerogative.
‘So if there is any sniff that they are trying to use Henry VIII powers, that would be profoundly unparliamentary and democratic, and I would seek legal advice, because what you are doing is setting a precedent that Government could bypass Parliament.’
While the Great Repeal Bill announced today does not directly remove any of the EU laws hated by Eurosceptics, it paves the way for their removal in future.
By making EU law into British law, Parliament will after March 2019 be allowed to re-write them at will.
Trouble making laws at the top of the list could be:
- Working time rules that limit how many hours a person can legally work. This is a particular problem for training doctors and surgeons who need hours to perfect techniques.
- Legislation on household goods like toasters and vacuum cleaners. EU rules on energy efficiency capped the power of common devices to the irritation of consumers.
- The ban on incandescent light bulbs. The EU banned traditional light bulbs, that use a heated filament, on the grounds they are bad for the environment – but many consumers feel energy saving ones are too dim.
He said: ‘We are going to launch a legislative war.
‘We will grind the Government’s agenda to a standstill, unless proper and rigorous safeguards are given over the great repeal bill.
‘The ball is now in the Prime Minister’s court.’
As he revealed his plans today, Mr Davis told MPs: ‘We have been clear that we want a smooth and orderly exit, and the Great Repeal Bill is integral to that approach.
‘It will provide clarity and certainty for businesses, workers and consumers across the United Kingdom on the day we leave the EU.
‘It will mean that as we exit the EU and seek a new deep and special partnership with the European Union, we will be doing so from the position where we have the same standards and rules.
‘But it will also ensure that we deliver on our promise to end the supremacy of EU law in the UK as we exit.
‘Our laws will then be made in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast and interpreted not by judges in Luxembourg but by judges across the United Kingdom.’
Responding in the Commons, shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said all existing rights and protections must be maintained as part of measures to convert EU law into the UK system.
Some legislation give ministers the power to repeal or amend laws without going through the normal process.
They are a rare form of executive legal power in the British system and are known as ‘Henry VIII’ powers because they are based on laws passed by the king in 1539.
Use of the powers is not unheard of but is relatively unusual.
The Government is being criticised for expanding their use, with time limits, as part of the Great Repeal Bill to allow ministers to remove references to EU treaties in existing legislation.
Ministers say this corrects laws to take account of Brexit without changing them but critics fear a dramatic expansion of government power.
Sir Keir warned the Government is seeking to provide itself with ‘sweeping powers’ so it can use a procedure that requires less scrutiny from MPs to change primary legislation.
He said no safeguards against such powers are outlined in the white paper published by the Government.
He said: ‘There should be no change to rights and protections without primary legislation – that is a starting and basic principle, and the same goes for policy.
‘I add this, when we see the Bill there should be no power to change rights and obligations and protections in the future by delegated legislation.
‘I ask (Mr Davis) to provide assurance on those basic principles this morning, and I ask him to look again at safeguards for the delegated legislation procedures that are proposed.
‘As to the ‘what is to happen’ in relation to converting law into domestic law, again there have to be clear principles.
‘All rights and protections derived from EU law must be converted into domestic law – all rights and protections, no limitations, no qualifications and no sunset clauses.
‘This morning we need an assurance from (Mr Davis) that he will face down those on his own side who will not be able to resist the temptation to water these rights and protections down before they’re even put into this Bill.’
Ahead of Mr Davis’s announcement, former Commons Clerk Lord Lisvane voiced serious doubts that the process could be completed within the two years it will take for us complete the EU divorce.
‘It won’t just be two years,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. ‘It could go on for a decade.’
The tortuous parliamentary project will formally repeal the 1972 European Communities Act – the law which took the UK into the EU.
It will also transfer reams of existing EU law onto the domestic statute book.