Brexit bill: Top Tories warn Theresa May over 'rule by decree'

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Senior Tories today warned Theresa May against “rule by decree” in a major challenge to the Government’s flagship Bill to quit the European Union.

Former attorney general Dominic Grieve said the Withdrawal Bill would mean “our domestic constitution and liberties vandalised” unless it is amended. 

The Government also faced a backlash against leaked plans to reduce immigration from the EU. Business groups said the proposals risked “economic self-harm”.

Mr Grieve, a QC and MP, is one of the most respected legal minds in Parliament. He speaks out in an exclusive article in today’s Standard ahead of the critical second reading debate. 

He singled out the creation of so-called Henry VIII powers that would let ministers issue diktats without seeking approval in the Commons. “Even more worryingly it seeks to confer powers on the Government to carry out Brexit in breach of our constitutional principles, in a manner that no sovereign parliament should allow,” he says. He warns that “vast areas of law” could be altered by the Government “without full parliamentary process”.

He was echoed today by Nicky Morgan, Tory chair of the cross-party Treasury Select Committee. She told the Standard: “When people voted to take back control, I believe they wanted control to come back to a sovereign Parliament at Westminster, not to an all-powerful government in Whitehall.”

The legislation, dubbed the Repeal Bill by Brexit-backers, faces a cross-party revolt when it goes into the detailed line-by-line debate stage. The first clash will come on Monday in the vote at the end of the second reading debate, which starts tomorrow, after Labour said its MPs will vote against the entire Bill. Senior Tories are keeping their powder dry for the detailed committee stage.

Mr Grieve’s strongest warnings are over the Henry VIII powers “allowing for ministerial rule by decree on any matter that can be connected to a failure of the incorporation of EU law to operate effectively”. The powers are named after a statute that allowed the king to rule by proclamation. 

Mr Grieve says voters who backed Brexit last year would oppose the attack on liberties that the Bill involved. “Scrutinising detail is not obstructing the referendum result,” he writes. “The electorate did not vote to ‘take back control’ to see our domestic constitution and liberties vandalised.” 

He urged Mrs May to make concessions rather than risk defeat in the Commons. The Government said: “This Bill delivers the result of the referendum by ending the direct role of the EU in UK law, and gives British judges and lawmakers control for the future. It is also the single most important step we can take to prevent a cliff-edge for people and businesses, because it transfers laws and provides legal continuity.

“The Government is clear that the correcting power will be time-limited, to apply before the UK leaves the EU and for a limited period afterwards. 

 “We are also clear that any significant changes to policy will be done via primary legislation.” 

Sir Keir Starmer, Labour’s Brexit spokesman, said: “Labour will work across the House to prevent Parliament being sidelined.”


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