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The EU Withdrawal Bill – no longer so “Great”
16 Jul, 2017

Theresa May used to call it the “Great Repeal Bill”. But since the election its nomenclature seems to have shrunk somewhat. That is also true of the Prime Minister, says Michael Romberg, London4Europe Committee Member, while offering some advice for Labour Remainers too.

In principle, the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill published on Thursday is a sensible way to implement Brexit. It would repeal the European Communities Act, which ensures the primacy of EU law. The Bill would turn all existing EU law into UK law.

The ”Opportunities” of Brexit

These new British laws can then be modified or dropped at leisure after Brexit. We have seen just how little in the Conservative manifesto was actually contingent on Brexit. The “opportunities” of Brexit have so far proven to be a chimera.

No matter: Brexit is a religion, not a policy choice. For true believers it is not actually necessary to show any specific laws that would be dropped – which would allow us to assess whether the benefits were worth the cost. Brexit salvation comes by faith alone.

Risks in the Government’s method

Unless you are very trusting of Theresa May, there are clear risks in the Government’s approach. Not all EU laws can be transposed readily. For example, powers given to the European Commission will have to be given to someone in the UK. The Government may take the opportunity to weaken rules surreptitiously. The use of secondary legislation will enable changes to be made with minimal Parliamentary scrutiny.

In particular, the Bill would give Ministers the power to implement the Withdrawal Agreement by regulations with very little by way of constraint. So Parliament is being asked to write a blank cheque before it has any idea of what is in the withdrawal agreement.

Evidence submitted to the previous House of Commons Procedure Committee inquiry into the Bill warned about the dangers in the Government’s approach.

The risks crystallise

Nor are the dangers theoretical. In accordance with the Conservative manifesto, the Bill explicitly does not take the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights into UK law. So right from the outset we see one of the key aspects of Brexit Britain: fewer human rights. That plays well with a public who think only criminals benefit from human rights. But the law protects all of us:
“The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.” – John F. Kennedy

Labour’s stance

The Labour Manifesto says “We will drop the Conservatives’ Great Repeal Bill, replacing it with an EU Rights and Protections Bill that will ensure there is no detrimental change to workers’ rights, equality law, consumer rights or environmental protections as a result of Brexit.”

Here again we have what is typical for Labour’s stance on Brexit. On Brexit itself they will do much the same as the Conservatives while calling it something different; but they will take a different approach on some UK legislation.

For sure, they would have a less hard Brexit than Theresa May. They would try to stay in Euratom and the European Medicines Agency. We can ignore their Borisian desire to have the immigration control cake and eat single market membership. But since they too are prioritising immigration control, they too are heading for a hard Brexit. It is just slightly less hard than that of the Conservatives.

Nor is there much mileage in believing that Labour is secretly planning to pop out of its Brexit chrysalis as a beautiful Remain butterfly when the time is ripe. For a start it means that believing that Labour has been lying for the past year. Jeremy Corbyn’s desire for socialism in one state is not going to go away. Nor are worries in Leave-voting Labour seats about immigration – though even there, most Labour voters voted Remain.

The task for Labour Remainers

Therefore Labour Remainers must act to change their party if they wish Brexit to be stopped. Without a change of leadership, the most that can be hoped for is that Labour gives us the chance to stop Brexit by a referendum on the terms.

Our Great Opportunity

This is the great opportunity that the Repeal Bill provides us with. We can call on MPs and Peers to amend its commencement provision so that the repeal of the European Communities Act may not take place until after a Referendum on the terms of Brexit has taken place with the opportunity to Remain. That would prevent a chaotic crashing-out Brexit. More importantly, it will give us the chance to persuade our fellow citizens democratically to vote to Remain.

I urge you to write to your MP.

Michael Romberg is a London4Europe Committee member and retired senior civil servant. You can read more from Michael on his Facebook page: Campaign for the Real Referendum – on the Terms of Brexit