European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

On Thursday 13th July 2017 the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis, published before Parliament the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. Previously referred to as the “Great Repeal Bill” this legislation aims to repeal the European Communities Act 1972 and make other provisions in connection with the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU. It represents the most significant change to the British constitutional settlement in nearly 50 years and is a key component of the government’s Brexit strategy.

The first line of the Bill says the European Communities Act 1972, which took Britain into the European Union will be “repealed on exit day”. This will end the supremacy of EU law and stop the flow of new regulations from Brussels. It is part of the process of regaining control of laws from Brussels and reinstating Parliamentary Sovereignty.

All existing laws derived from the EU will continue to be enforced – thus providing for continuity and avoiding a “cliff-edge” scenario on Brexit day – but they can be changed or scrapped by further domestic legislation. The Bill does not detail policies line by line but transfers all EU regulations into domestic law. It gives the UK two years after Brexit to correct any “deficiencies” arising from the transfer.

The Bill is not expected to be debated by MPs until the autumn, but will have to have passed by the time the UK leaves the EU – which is due to happen in March 2019. Given the precarious parliamentary arithmetic, and the fact that the Prime Minister leads a minority government, this will be a highly charged and complex process. The Bill amounts to an enormous exercise in taking the laws made in Brussels that currently apply in the UK, and turning them into UK laws.

Over the next two years the government will have to pass laws in areas that it will suddenly have sole control over, such as immigration. If the UK leaves the EU in a sudden “hard-Brexit” scenario in March 2019 a new immigration framework will have to be in place to regulate the entry and stay of EU nationals. This means that the new domestic immigration framework must be developed and legislated upon during the two year negotiation period.

The repeal project is complicated and controversial, operating within an extremely tight deadline. The passage of the Bill will dominate Parliament’s work in the months to come. It is clear that the opposition parties, as well as the devolved governments in Scotland and Wales, will wish to see significant amendments, particularly in relation to provisions that will grant Ministers powers to amend British laws without a guaranteed debate in Parliament.