Brexit secretary David Davis unveils Great Repeal Bill plans

Written by Jim Dunton on 30 March 2017 in News

“Streamlined” use of delegated powers will be used to correct and update EU law onto the UK statute books

The government’s Great Repeal Bill proposals to bridge the legislative canyon created by the UK’s departure from the European Union include the wide-ranging use of statutory powers to “correct” anomalies in importing EU law, it has emerged.

Brexit secretary David Davis told MPs today that while the overarching purpose of the bill would be to bring EU law onto the UK statute books to provide a smooth transition for businesses and citizens once the UK left the union, tweaks would need to be made that required the use of secondary legislation.

Outlining the proposals to the House of Commons this afternoon, Davis said a “large number of laws would not work properly” if they were simply transferred because they would relate to EU institutions and directives that the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972 made irrelevant. 

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“Because the scale of the changes that are needed, there is a balance to be struck between the importance of securing the correction and scrutiny,” he said.

Davis said the use of the streamlined correction powers was likely to be for a limited time only, and did not amount to an “executive legislation” process.

He added that while the UK’s departure from the European Union would not erase past decisions from the European Court of Justice from the nation’s legal history, It was expected that the UK Supreme Court would treat them in a similar way to case law.

The white paper, Legislating for the United Kingdom's Withdrawal from the European Union, said the Great Repeal Bill would contain three main elements: revoking the European Communities Act and returning power to UK institutions; importing elements of EU law to UK law; and providing for "corrections" to be made to legislation in the transition process.

Details in the white paper that relate to the government's use of statutory instruments to make changes to EU law as it is imported to the UK suggest that most changes would need to be made before the date of withdrawal from the bloc.

“The powers proposed under the bill do not need to exist in perpetuity,” it said. 

“The government will therefore ensure that the power is appropriately time-limited to enact the required changes.”

Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer said the document was significantly lacking in detail on checks and balances that would be applied to the streamlined process.

“The white paper gives sweeping powers to the executive, sweeping because it proposes using delegated powers to correct and thus change primary legislation,” he said.

"In these circumstances, one might expect some pretty rigorous safeguards, but none are found in the white paper.”

The white paper said there was no single figure for how much EU law already formed part of UK law, but indicated there were currently more than 12,000 EU regulations in force, while 7,900 statutory instruments had implemented EU legislation in the UK.

It added that research from the House of Commons Library suggested that out of 1,302 UK acts between 1980 and 2009, 14.3% incorporated "a degree of EU influence".

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