The Legislative Part of Brexit Has Begun, but What Exactly is the Great Repeal Bill?

On Wednesday Sir Tim Barrow – the UK Ambassador to the European Union – hand delivered a letter to EU President Donald Tusk officially notifying him of Britain’s intention to leave the 28 member bloc, and thus formally triggering Article 50, paving the way for the two year negation process, and the beginnings of the Great Repeal Bill.

Today the White Paper for that Bill was released. The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis said that there were three main elements to the Great Repeal Bill, which are:

  • Repealing the European Communities Act of 1972: The Act which legislated the UK’s official accession into the European Communities.
  • Converting EU law into UK law: The current body of existing EU law will be incorporated into domestic law, this will ensure that there are no gaps or black holes where there are suddenly no statutes to cover, making the transition of leaving the EU a smoother process and slightly less of a legislative nightmare.
  • Granting powers to Ministers to allow them to correct EU laws that do not operate properly in the UK: These will be temporary time-limited powers that will give the ability to decide which aspects of EU law to keep, amend, or repeal. Much of the EU law will no longer be applicable as it may refer to the EU system, institutions, and UK membership, therefore these laws would need to be fully assessed and, if necessary, changed or scrapped. This will require secondary legislation, and cannot be achieved by the Great Repeal Bill itself.

The Bill has already caused some controversy, with Sir Keir Starmer, the Shadow Brexit Secretary, saying the Bill gives ‘sweeping powers’ to the Government to change and implement laws. He has questioned whether there are sufficient safeguards in place, and called on Davis to assure MPs and members of the public that Ministers will not ‘water down’ existing rights. However, as always, Parliament will have the final say on all laws whether new, amended, or appealed. We can expect intense scrutiny of the Bill from both Houses of Parliament.

With regards to rights, the White Paper states that the Charter of Fundamental rights will not be incorporated into domestic law. However, the White Paper goes on to note the majority of those rights contained within the Charter can also be found in the European Convention on Human Rights, which comes under the auspice of the Council of Europe, a separate entity to the European Union, and therefore not affected by the UK’s withdrawal.

In a summary the White Paper states the Great Repeal Bill will put the UK back in control of its laws; maximise certainty for businesses, workers, investors and consumers across the whole of the UK as we leave the EU but in politics a week can be a long time, and two years is practically unmeasurable in certainty. The White Paper may be aiming to end the supremacy of the EU and its law, but Brexit will be a negotiation, and realistically nobody can predict what the state of affairs will be come April 2019.

Theresa May has consistently emphasised that she and other Ministers will not be providing a “running commentary” on negotiations. Conversely the European Chief Negotiator has said talks should be “based on full transparency and public debate”. Either way, now that the divorce is irrevocable, it would better for all involved that the final deal were an amicable one if the United Kingdom is to continue a friendly working relationship with the remaining member states.

The Great Repeal Bill White Paper can be read here.

David Davis’ Commons Statement on the Bill can be read here.

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