Opposition warns of ‘ hell’ over Brexit bill
LONDON — There’s no divorce without paperwork.
Just over a year after Britons voted to leave the European Union, the United Kingdom government on Thursday unveiled the first piece of legislation to make it a reality a 62-page bill that anti-Brexit politicians are already vowing to block.
The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill aims to convert some 12,000 EU laws and regulations into UK statute on the day the country leaves the bloc. That is scheduled to be in March 2019.
All those rules can then be kept, amended or scrapped by Britain’s Parliament, fulfilling the promise of anti-EU campaigners to “take back control” from Brussels to London.
But opponents of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative government fear the legislation gives officials powers to change laws without sufficient scrutiny by lawmakers. They worry the government could water down environmental standards, employment regulations or other measures brought to Britain via EU law since it joined the bloc in 1973.
The divorce is the easy part. Leaving the EU takes up just a single line in the bill, repealing the European Communities Act through which Britain entered the bloc.
The bulk of the bill describes how all EU laws will be converted into British statute. The government says that will ensure continuity law on the day after Brexit will be the same as on the day before.
Brexit Secretary David Davis said the legislation will allow Britain to leave the EU with “maximum certainty, continuity and control”.
In a commentary, the Guardian newspaper said the repeal bill contains controversial new powers for ministers to tweak laws and create new institutions, where these are deemed necessary to make EU law work when it is transferred to UK law.
But, contentiously, it gives the government powers to fix “deficiencies” in EU law by what’s known as statutory instruments, which can be used without the parliamentary scrutiny usually needed to make or amend legislation.
The powers are temporary, expiring two years after Brex- it day. Even so, Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon branded the bill a “naked power grab”.
The bill is not expected to face debate in Parliament until the fall, and May’s minority government weakened after a battering in last month’s general election faces a fight.
The main opposition Labour Party has said it would oppose the bill unless it met six conditions, including guarantees for workers’ rights. Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said he would work to soften May’s stance, promising the prime minister that “this will be hell”.
(The legislation will allow Britain to leave the EU with) maximum certainty, continuity and control.”
David Davis, Brexit Secretary