The Repeal Bill

Brexit Explained banner

What is the Great Repeal Bill?

The Repeal Bill was announced in the Queen's Speech on 21 June 2017 and was published under its official title of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill on 13 July 2017. It is 19 clauses long and has 8 schedules.

This follows on from the Government’s publication of a white paper on 30 March 2017. There is much more detail on the purpose of the individual clauses and schedules in the explanatory notes.  

Why is it no longer called the Great Repeal Bill?

This was a term coined by the Prime Minister in her party conference speech in 2016. This was never likely to be the official title of the bill. 

What will it do?

The bill does three main things:

  1. Repeals the European Communities Act 1972. This legislation provides legal authority for EU law to have effect as national law in the UK. This will no longer be the case after Brexit.
  2. Brings all EU laws onto the UK books. This means that laws and regulations made over the past 40 years while the UK was a member of the EU will continue to apply after Brexit.
  3. Give ministers power to make secondary legislation. Technical problems will arise as EU laws are put on the statute book. For instance, many EU laws mention EU institutions in which the UK will no longer participate after Brexit, or mention “EU law” itself, which will not be part of the UK legal system after Brexit. There will not be time for Parliament to scrutinise every change, so the bill will give ministers some powers to make these changes by secondary legislation, which is subject to less scrutiny by MPs.

If the UK is leaving the EU, why is it keeping laws made by the EU?

EU law covers areas such as environmental regulation, workers’ rights, and the regulation of financial services. Without the bill, when the UK leaves the EU, all these rules and regulations would no longer have legal standing in the UK, creating a ‘black hole’ in the UK statute book and leading to uncertainty and confusion. By carrying EU laws over into UK law, the Government plans to provide for what David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, calls ‘a calm and orderly exit’ from the EU, while giving the Government and Parliament time to review, amend or scrap these laws in future.

The purpose of the bill is to provide certainty and continuity, ensuring the same rules and laws apply immediately after exit wherever possible and supporting a smooth transition. 

How much do we know about the bill? 

The Queen's Speech gave a high-level summary of the bill's main aims and benefits. The White Paper provides more details of the Bill. 

EU Law

The White Paper commits to ending the supremacy of EU law over UK law. It will no longer be the case that laws passed in Westminster has to be compatible with those passed in Brussels.

EU case law before we leave also becomes part of UK law – but the bill allows the Supreme Court (and in some cases the High Court) to overturn earlier judgements – but expects that to be done “sparingly”. The bill also gives the courts guidance on how to make decisions in future cases on “EU derived law”.

Delegated Powers

The bill contains wide provisions for delegated powers. The white paper argued that a “prohibitively large amount of primary legislation” would be required to make all the necessary changes to the body of EU law. Therefore, it will “provide a power to correct the statute book.

These powers are likely to prove very controversial – the Government said it would seek a “discussion between Government and Parliament as to the most pragmatic and effective approach to take” on powers. It is not yet clear whether any such discussions have taken place.


The white paper committed to “intensive discussions with the devolved administrations” about how policy powers repatriated to the UK from the EU will be distributed between the four nations of the UK. 

However, both the Scottish and Welsh First Ministers gave notice straight after the bill was published that they are not prepared to give legislative consent to the bill “as it stands”.  

When will it come into force?

The plan is for the bill to complete its passage through Parliament well before the point at which the UK leaves, but for it to include ‘commencement provisions’ enabling ministers to bring it into force at a moment of their choosing. The Government says that the bill will come into force "from the day we leave the European Union." This will be on 29 March 2019, although if Article 50 negotiations are extended it may be later. The bill refers extensively to the “exit date” but does not name the day.

Will Parliament get to vote on it?

MPs and peers will get a chance to scrutinise, debate and vote on the bill, as part of the normal process of parliamentary scrutiny.

What will the scrutiny process involve?

There has been no pre-legislative scrutiny.

The bill is likely to have a second reading in the Commons after recess and, as a constitutional measure, will be taken in the Committee of the Whole House. It will then need to go to the Lords. 

Amendments can be made to the bill. Both the Commons and the Lords will need to approve the bill, with any amendments, before it can be passed.

Even if the bill is relatively short, the scrutiny process may take some time if previous examples of EU bills are any guide. For example, the legislation to ratify the Maastricht Treaty was scrutinised for a total of 41 days in both Houses.

Once the bill becomes an act, the Government will start to introduce the secondary legislation it needs. The Government is proposing that some of this legislation will need the consent of both Houses (affirmative resolution) whereas other measures will only need no one to object. It proposes its powers to do this expire two years after the UK exits the EU. It also proposes powers to make “urgent changes” with no parliamentary scrutiny – but where the measures themselves expire after a month.   

This Brexit Explained was updated on 13 July 2017. Read our response to the Repeal Bill

Update date: 
Friday, July 7, 2017 - 10:45