Henry VIII clauses are as worrying as they soundby Sionaidh Douglas-Scott / March 31, 2017 / Leave a comment
The 1832 Great Reform Act is considered one of the central events in the development of our democracy (although its extension of the franchise was in fact small.) No doubt the 2017 Great Repeal Bill has been named with this venerable predecessor in mind, hinting at a glorious democratic legacy. But scrutiny of the Government’s White Paper on the Bill, issued on Thursday, leads one to wonder whether it will sap power from our elected assembly and concentrate it in ministerial office.
In the Introduction to the White Paper, David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, asserts regarding the Brexit vote: “At the heart of that historic decision was sovereignty…The UK Parliament will unquestionably be sovereign again.” So it transpires that the Brexit vote was not primarily about reducing immigration after all. Davis’s statement also contradicts the words of the Government’s own February White Paper, issued immediately before the EU Withdrawal Act, which stated clearly (and correctly) that: “Parliament has remained sovereign throughout our membership of the EU.” If we were sovereign after all, what was the point of leaving the EU?
In any case given the huge magnitude and complexity of the Great Repeal Bill endeavour—the big idea being to translate all EU laws to the UK so we can carry on without anarchy before we figure out what to change—the steps taken so far are modest. There is no draft Bill and the Government has confirmed that it does not intend to publish one for consultation. The February White Paper was compact to say the least: only about 18 of its 37 pages containing anything of substance. The Bill itself will not come into force until after a withdrawal agreement is concluded and the UK has left the EU. Nor indeed, is this to be the only Bill. We are told the Government will also introduce further legislation during the next two years—for example, separate Bills on customs and immigration.