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Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve, one of the most respected legal minds in parliament, said the Bill broke the Government’s commitment to copy EU rights exactly into British law.
He said that although Conservatives will vote with the Government in tonight’s key vote in the Commons, there could be a rebellion on the Third Reading vote if the Bill was not “substantially amended”.
The claim that EU rights are being diminished was denied by ministers when first raised by trade unions. The row will escalate with the intervention of Tory MPs because it would take just six to rebel on an amendment for Theresa May to lose her working majority in the Commons.
They say that unless amended, it would delete the ability to seek redress in UK courts for breaches of rights protected in Europe, including on gender equality, privacy and data protection.
Mr Grieve told the Standard: “It is important that the Government does what it said it was going to do – which is to incorporate EU law without attempting to cut corners or tinker with it in ways that would remove people’s protection.”
EU rights have been key to several landmark legal cases. Earlier this year, a gay former cavalry officer, John Walker, 65, won a Supreme Court fight to secure his husband equal pension rights by citing EU anti-discrimination rights. Welsh hill farmers won a major subsidies case against their government using the same rights.
Rebel Tories are focusing on three main areas for concessions, which are: winning proper scrutiny of up to 1,000 new laws being created by so-called Henry VIII powers; winning extra time for detailed debate of the Bill instead of the eight days currently timetabled; changing areas where they believe EU laws have been “tinkered with” rather than copied into UK law.
One Tory agreed that the Government had been caught with “hand firmly in the cookie jar”.
In her speech to the Trades Union Congress today, TUC leader Frances O’Grady called on the Government to “put jobs, rights and livelihoods first” during Brexit.
She said staying in the EU single market offered the best chance of preserving jobs and trade. “We have set out our tests for the Brexit deal working people need,” she was to say. “Staying in the single market and customs union would deliver it.”
Speaking ahead of tonight’s debate, Brexit Secretary David Davis insisted the Withdrawal Bill “ensures that individuals and businesses will continue to be able to find redress when problems arise”.
Government sources said they were “willing to listen” to worries but believed that the same rights would be upheld by reference to case law.
Labour shadow Keir Starmer accused the Prime Minister of “a blinkered approach” and a “refusal to accept the deficiencies of the Bill”.
“The Prime Minister should bin this Bill and produce one that could command the confidence of Parliament,” she said.
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