For many people, the Withdrawal Bill debate will seem arcane. But the potential loss of rights is a worrying oneby Sionaidh Douglas-Scott / September 14, 2017 / Leave a comment
In the early hours of Tuesday morning, the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill—formerly known as the ‘Great Repeal Bill’—survived its second reading in the House of Commons, with a small but workable majority. It was, according to David Davis at the opening of the debate, “an essential step” in “the historic process” of honouring the Referendum vote.
Perhaps—but bumpy days lie ahead. Just one day after the Bill survived the vote, 157 Amendments to it had been tabled, many of them by Conservatives. Speeches by both Conservative and Opposition MPs during the 2nd reading debate illustrated that its provisions cause great concern across the political spectrum.
A look at some of the more critical comments reveals a deep unhappiness with the Bill. Chris Bryant, speaking in the Monday night debate, declared passionately: “This bill is utterly pernicious. It is dangerous, it is fundamentally un-British and it has at its heart a lie.’ Hilary Benn was only slightly more measured: “its flaws and weaknesses are fundamental”, he said, adding that the government “should go away and do their homework again.” Former Conservative Attorney-General, Dominic Grieve described the Bill as an “astonishing monstrosity.” Outside the House, Cambridge Law Professor Mark Elliott suggested that “to say that it is byzantine in nature would be to do a disservice to the Byzantine Empire.”
Just what are its critics so exercised about? And was Davis right to label this opposition “vacuous criticism”? It is certainly worth stressing that no-one—not even the Bill’s most serious critics—doubts that some form of legislation is necessary to ensure that the law is in good shape when the UK exits the EU.
In its current form, however, the Withdrawal Bill stands to produce the very chaos and legal uncertainty it is supposed to prevent. The Bill has been meticulously analysed elsewhere, including in Prospect here, but an extremely brief recap reminds us of its most controversial points.
First, “while ensuring that former EU law is converted into national law by Brexit day, in order to ensure legal continuity,” it also gives Ministers huge powers to “to prevent, remedy or mitigate” what it terms “failures or deficiencies of EU law” where the Minister deems it “appropriate”. This terminology is both vague and, apparently, limitless. The Withdrawal Bill grants hugely broad ministerial…