What is the Great Repeal Bill? All your questions answered as MPs vote on the Brexit legislation

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MPs are set to vote on proposed legislation to transfer legal powers back to the EU after Brexit.

Details of the Great Repeal Bill were first published in a White Paper the day after Theresa May delivered the ‘Article 50 letter’ to Donald Tusk.

And the legislation was first introduced to the Commons during its first reading in July, under the official title of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.

This week, it underwent its second reading after which MPs debated the bill’s themes before at vote at about midnight on Monday, September 11.

What is the Bill?

Ministers have a huge task on their hands in preventing chaos and legal “black holes” as the country is pulled out of the European Union. In order to tackle this challenge, the Government has proposed this complex and large-scale legislative project, thought to be one of the biggest ever undertaken in the UK.

The PM speaking about the Grenfell disaster in Parliament. (AFP/Getty Images)

In simple terms the bill, if approved by Parliament, would set into motion the transfer of all EU laws into UK laws on the day of Brexit.

In doing so, it will repeal the European Communities Act 1972 – which is the legislation underpinning Britain’s membership of the EU.

As explained in the Prime Minister’s foreword in the ‘Legislating for the United Kingdom’s Withdrawal from the European Union’ White Paper, the Bill will ensure that “the same rules and laws will apply on the day after exit as on the day before”.

And, then if any changes were to be made to primary legislation it would have to go through the processes of Parliament – debate and scrutiny. 

EU laws and regulation form a huge part of UK legislation. As a result, leaving the EU with no legislative provision would leave the legal system with huge gaps. The government claims that in order to “deliver a smooth and orderly Brexit” the Bill will transfer existing EU law into domestic law, after which Parliament will be able to decide which elements of that law to keep, amend or repeal.

The Government hopes it will provide confidence to businesses, workers and consumers that they will not face unexpected changes on the day of Brexit.

What will it actually do?

The three key steps are:

1.    Repealing the European Communities Act and thus returning all power to UK institutions

David Davis is representing the UK in Brexit negotiations (Reuters)

2.   Converting EU law as it stands at the moment of exit into UK law before exiting the EU. This will allow businesses to continue operating knowing the rules have not changed significantly overnight, and provides fairness to individuals, whose rights and obligations will not be subject to sudden change. 

3.    Creating powers to make secondary legislation. This will allow ministers to make amends to laws that would not function appropriately once we have left the EU.

It will also enable domestic law to reflect the content of any withdrawal agreement under Article 50.

Mr Davis told the House of Commons that the Bill will provide “clarity and certainty” for businesses and citizens as Brexit takes place.

David Davis Talks About His Approach To Brexit

And Prime Minister Theresa May said it would “provide maximum certainty as we leave the EU”.

“The Great Repeal Bill is an important part of our plan to deliver a smooth and orderly Brexit that commands the confidence of all,” she added.

Why is it controversial?

The Bill sparked additional concern over the use of so-called ‘Henry VIII powers’. These powers allow the Government to pass up to 1,000 pieces of secondary legislation without the usual close parliamentary scrutiny employed when passing primary legalisation.

Pro-EU: The bill will face opposition in Parliament (AFP/Getty Images)

But Mr Davis said any powers created in this way would be “time limited” and “Parliament will need to be satisfied that the procedures are appropriate”.

He said the Bill will provide a power to “correct the statute book where necessary” using secondary legislation – which some critics have warned will not allow full parliamentary scrutiny of the process.

He added that there was a “balance to be struck between the importance of scrutiny and correcting the statute book in time.”

Another contentious area is the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

Brexit talks: UK negotiator David Davis, left, and his EU counterpart Michel Barnier  (EPA)

Mr Davis said the Bill will not give the ECJ a “future role” in the interpretation of UK laws, and courts will not be obliged to consider cases decided by the ECJ after Brexit. It would mean ECJ case law would be given the same status as Supreme Court decisions, which can be overruled by subsequent rulings in the UK’s highest court.

And in a Government report published in August, the PM vowed that the UK would “take back control of our laws”.

But critics have said the publication is vague and Mrs May has been accused of “backtracking” on her pledge because it suggests the ECJ may stull have some influence on the outcome of disputes.

What is happening when?

The bill was first introduced to Parliament on July 13. 

Parliament: the bill will be debated on Thursday (Getty Images)

It will be debated on in the Commons on Thursday and MPs will vote on the Bill on Monday.

Opposition to the bill

Theresa May’s appeal for opposition parties to cooperate with her minority government has not only just gone down badly with the Labour party, but also her own MPs. 

There were rumours she could face a revolt from Remain-supporting Conservative MPs, and only a few Tory rebels are needed to inflict defeat on the Prime Minister.

But on Monday a leading Tory remainer dismissed the concerns and said it was “outrageous” to suggest Conservative  MPs would vote against the bill in its second reading.

May: The PM has called for cross-party cooperation (PA)

Former minister Anna Soubry said suggestions of a rebellion were “an absolute nonsense” but said she may support amendments to the bill.

Meanwhile Labour said it could vote against the Bill, prompting warnings by Tory whips that any rebellion by Remain-backing Conservative MPs could be seen as them supporting Jeremy Corbyn.

Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer has said he is “putting the government on notice” and demanding changes on matters from parliamentary scrutiny to workers’ rights. 

Sir Keir said the government’s approach to the process was “completely wrong”, as it gave ministers power to overhaul existing EU laws without any Parliamentary scrutiny.

Keir Starmer: the shadow Brexit secretary is contesting parts of the bill (EPA)

“This is not about frustrating the process, it is not giving government a blank cheque to pass powers into the hands of ministers,” he told the Andrew Marr Show.

“You could entrench important EU rights on Monday and take them away on Tuesday without primary legislation.”

When asked if Labour would vote against the legislation Mr Corbyn said: “We will make that decision just before the vote.”


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