Friday

22nd Jun 2018

Column / Brexit Briefing

Controlling the right of repeal

  • Prime minister Theresa May signed the Article 50 letter on Tuesday evening (28 March), officially invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to withdraw membership of the European Union. (Photo: Facebook - Prime minister's profile)

With her divorce letter pressed into the hands of European Council President Donald Tusk, UK prime minister Theresa May and her ministers now have to wait for their counterparts to come to the negotiating table.

Having served its notice to formally leave the EU, May immediately got onto the part of making Brexit a reality she can control: enshrining it in domestic law.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... our join as a group

  • Sir Tim Barrow, the UK's EU ambassador handed over May's historic letter to European Council president Donald Tusk on 29 March. (Photo: Council of the European Union)

The proposed repeal bill, set out in a White Paper published on Thursday (30 March), will transfer the 12,000 existing EU regulations into domestic law.

In the UK, there are “7,900 statutory instruments which have implemented EU legislation” with 186 acts of parliament “incorporating a degree of EU influence”.

It is due to come into force on the day the UK leaves the EU.

Brexit Secretary David Davis insists that the Repeal Bill “is not a vehicle for policy changes” and that “wherever practical and sensible, the same laws and rules will apply immediately before and immediately after our departure”.

“Once EU law has been converted into domestic law, parliament will be able to pass legislation to amend, repeal or improve any piece of EU law it chooses,” he told MPs on Thursday.

Some will be reassured by this. The Repeal bill means no change yet, but that “any change is at our own pace”, says Conservative peer Emma Nicolson.

“The de-regulatory paradise ain't gonna happen,” commented Xavier Rolet, the Chief Executive of the London Stock Exchange.

Opacity and sweeping powers

But the bill still gives ministers sweeping powers. The government estimates that around 800 to 1,000 existing measures will need to change and proposes using statutory instruments – laws which usually don’t need a parliamentary debate or vote to be passed.

There’s a certain irony in the fact that after railing against the lack of accountability of EU lawmaking, the British government is now proposing to scrap potentially reams of law without a parliamentary vote.

Neither is the White Paper clear on which laws fall in the ‘800-1000’ category, and it is this opacity that leads trade unions to fear that there is nothing stopping ministers from gutting EU Social Chapter laws.

If there is much to worry about for Remain supporters, purist Brexiteers will be unhappy that the White Paper proposes that European Court of Justice case law carries the same domestic status, in terms of precedent, as UK Supreme Court judgments.

Meanwhile, EU-derived law will continue to take priority over pre-Brexit Day UK law.

Richard Tice, one of the multi-millionaire businessmen who bankrolled the Leave campaign, says ominously that there is still a “long war to reclaim national independence”.

The military tone is jarring, but it chimes with the jingoistic mood of much of the press. The BBC, again the target of right-wing pundits, has been accused of treating the triggering of Article 50 and Repeal Bill like days of mourning.

At least the grandiose idea of naming it ‘the Great Repeal Bill’ has been quietly ditched by the government. It’s not as if the Brexit debate is short of hyperbole.

Trench warfare

One obvious point is that the May government is now essentially a single issue administration.

Leaving aside the upcoming Article 50 talks, the Repeal Bill will dominate most of the next twelve months.

There will be little time in the parliamentary agenda for other bills, which could serve as a warning to other eurosceptic governments in the EU.

It is also the time for the UK parliament’s barrack room lawyers to earn their corn.

What to do about the Repeal Bill is now the main decision facing the 48 percent - those who voted to remain in the EU - and their political leaders.

Do they accept that EU membership is definitely over, and focus on trying to shape the new legal political framework, safeguarding particular pieces of EU law on environmental or consumer protection and work-place rights? Or do they dig in to trench warfare, opposing and filibustering ministers on every line of every bill?

For the moment they can criticise the procedure.

Labour's shadow Brexit Secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, warned that the lack of scrutiny could lead to making hasty, ill thought-out legislation, while Liberal Democrat chief whip Tom Brake immediately threatened to “grind the government's agenda to a standstill”.

Either way, following the Repeal Bill will not be for the faint-hearted. The House of Commons' library describes it as "one of the largest legislative projects ever undertaken in the UK".

Benjamin Fox, a former reporter for EUobserver, is a consultant with Sovereign Strategy, a London-based PR firm, and a freelance writer.

Be fair in Brexit talks, EU tells UK

European Council chief Tusk sent draft guidelines to member states. He said the EU wants "fairness" and then warned against using security cooperation as bargaining chip.

'Unhappy' day as UK delivers Brexit letter

European Council chief Donald Tusk said that "damage control" starts for the EU, as British PM Theresa May has invoked Article 50 nine months after the UK voted to leave the bloc.

MEPs draw 'red lines' on Brexit deal

MEPs will stress that the UK and EU members have no right to conclude separate deals during Brexit talks, according to a draft resolution seen by EUobserver.

High noon for British PM on Brexit

British MPs are voting on a Brexit bill that could keep the UK in the EU and destabilise the government, as the clock ticks to the exit date.

EU tells UK to stop with Brexit 'fantasies'

After the latest round of Brexit talks, a senior EU official sounded the alarm bell: progress on the key Irish border issue remains elusive, while the London government is chasing pipe dreams.

Visual Data

Mediterranean towns ready for EU-sponsored free wifi

The European Union's fund for free wireless internet connection hotspots is most popular in Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Italy, Malta, Slovenia and Romania. Check if your municipality pre-registered.

News in Brief

  1. Romania's ruling party leader gets jail sentence
  2. EU states defer individual decisions on asylum reforms
  3. Commission opens case on Qatar gas flow
  4. EU adopts posted workers directive
  5. EU leaders to call for 'coordinated plan' on AI
  6. May passes Brexit bill after rebels accept compromise
  7. Pope: populists 'creating a psychosis' on migrants
  8. MEPs want to restrict use of antibiotics

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  2. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMHRMI Launches Lawsuits Against Individuals and Countries Involved in Changing Macedonia's Name
  3. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  4. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  6. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  10. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  11. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  2. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  4. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  7. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  9. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  10. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  11. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  12. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us