Tuesday, September 12, 2017

EU repeal bill gets second reading

The controversial EU repeal bill cleared it's first hurdle in the House of Commons commons in the early hours of this morning, with MPs voting by 326 to 290 in favour.

Conservative and DUP members of parliament backed the bill, with most Labour, Lib/Dem, and SNP MPs voting against although seven Labour rebels ignored what Labour is demanding of them this week and voted for the bill: they were   Ronnie Campbell, Frank Field, Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins, John Mann, Dennis Skinner and Graham Stringer.

When first mooted this proposed legislation was referred to as the Great Repeal Bill; now known as the EU Withdrawal Bill, the measure will overturn the 1972 European Communities Act which took the UK into the then European Economic Community.

It will also convert all existing EU laws into UK law, to ensure there are no gaps in legislation on the day Britain leaves the EU at the end of March 2019.

Summing up the Commons debate, Justice Secretary David Lidington said that some of the criticism had been "exaggerated up to and beyond the point of hyperbole".

He said the bill would "enable us to have a coherent and functioning statute book" on the day the UK leaves the EU.

The bill is likely to be "one of the largest legislative projects ever undertaken in the UK", a report by the House of Commons library predicts, with "major swathes of the statute book" needing to be examined to see how they will work after Britain leaves the EUt
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This is necessary as working out which bits of UK law came from the EU is not at all simple. Indeed, it presents a "unique challenge", a House of Lords committee warned recently, because "the body of EU law is found in a number of different places, and in a number of different forms".

Simply transposing all EU law into UK legislation will not be enough, the government's White Paper on the bill says. Substantial sections of current UK law "will no longer work" on exit, for example because they refer to EU institutions.

Not all of this can be done through the Repeal Bill, so the government plans to create powers to "correct the statute book where necessary" by statutory instrument, which do not require as much  Parliamentary scrutiny.

It is right that this should be controversial because if these powers were prolonged or allowed to be used for purposes other than facilitating Britain's departure from the EU, they would represent a significant increase in power for the Executive compared with the legislature. However, ministers are adamant that there will be limits on these powers to prevent that.

In practical terms it would appear very difficult to imagine how the process of leaving the EU can be managed any other way - see next post.

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