Theresa May has marked her first year as Prime Minister by unveiling the most important bit of Brexit legislation she’ll have to pass: The Great Repeal Bill. In short, it repeals the 1972 European Communities Act to formally end Britain’s membership of the European Union, and then copies all EU law into British statute books so ministers can repeal more laws as they see fit. ”You can’t leave the European Union without this bill,” Lord Lawson said this morning.
Ministers appreciate its importance too, hence David Davis’s appeal today for MPs to “work together” so Britain has “a fully functioning legal system on the day we leave the European Union”. His call hasn’t been taken up by many Remainers yet. Tim Farron – in his final few days as Liberal Democrat leader – has put the Government “on warning” that “if you found [passing] the Article 50 bill difficult, you should be under no illusion, this will be hell”.
Labour has put Mrs May “ on notice” that it would derail her bill unless it met six criteria, including the incorporation of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights (something the EU once tried to turn into an epic poem) into UK law. The Government’s legislation commits to it no longer being “part of domestic law” from the day Britain exits the European Union. The Commons Women and Equalities Committee concluded in February that “ it would be difficult to apply the Charter so that it would function in a domestic context alone”, but that is unlikely to deter the Opposition – who will have their excuse to put up a fight and table amendments. First ministers Nicola Sturgeon and Carwyn Jones would no doubt support them, as they have issued a joint statement describing the bill as a “ naked power-grab” because it returns powers from the EU to the UK, rather than straight to the devolved administrations.
The Government is gearing up to fight to get this bill through both the House of Commons and Lords. “If somebody wrecks this bill then they’ll leave the UK statute book unworkable,” Brexit minister Steve Baker warned today, “and they’ll have to explain to their electors why they’ve chosen to do that”. The stakes are high and – as Michel Barnier reminded Britain yesterday “the clock is ticking” – so it will have to have its legislation ready in time for March 2019.
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