What is the Great Repeal Bill?
The Repeal Bill was announced in the Queen's Speech on 21 June and had its first reading in the House of Commons on 13 July under its official title, the European Union Withdrawal Bill. It is 19 clauses long and has eight schedules.
The bill passed second reading on 11 September. It was originally thought that the Commons would begin its line-by-line scrutiny of the bill in Committee of the Whole House in early October. Following the tabling of around 400 amendments and 60 new clauses, however, including some by Conservative backbenchers, the Government delayed the bill’s return to Parliament until mid-November.
Read our explainer on the current progress of the bill.
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. It was never likely to be the official title of the bill, as parliamentary rules prevent titles that could be seen to make an argument.
What will it do?
The bill will do three main things:
- Repeal 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.
- Bring 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.
- 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 no longernbe part of the UK legal system. 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 legal 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 Brexit wherever possible and supporting a smooth transition.
What are the areas of contention?
MPs have proposed a variety of amendments to the bill and parliamentary committees have published reports identifying areas of concern.
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”.
The breadth of the powers the Government is seeking has proven very controversial. Technically, they would allow amendment or repeal of any Act of Parliament ever passed, including the EU Withdrawal Bill itself, using only secondary legislation.
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”. It has been described by the Welsh and Scottish Governments as “a naked power grab”.
EU Law and the European Court of Justice
The bill is about ending the supremacy of EU law over UK law. It will no longer be the case that laws passed in Westminster have to be compatible with those passed in Brussels. EU case law before we leave will also become part of UK law.
Although the bill allows the UK Supreme Court (and in some cases the High Court) to overturn earlier judgements, this will be done “sparingly”. The bill also gives the courts guidance on how to make decisions in future cases on “EU derived law”.
When will it come into force?
The plan is for the bill to complete its passage through Parliament well before 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 gives ministers powers to set “exit 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 of the bill.
The bill passed second reading in the Commons in September and, as a constitutional measure, has been scheduled to have its committee stage in Committee of the Whole House. A programme motion for the bill was agreed after second reading, giving the House of Commons eight, eight-hour days for scrutiny and discussion of amendments.
It will then need to go to the Lords. Both the Commons and the Lords will need to approve the bill, with any amendments, before it can be passed.
Even though 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 of Parliament, the Government will introduce the secondary legislation it needs using the powers created by the Act. The Government proposes that some of this legislation will need the consent of both Houses (affirmative resolution) whereas other measures will only need no one to object (negative resolution).
The Government suggests its powers to do this expire two years after the UK leaves the EU. It also proposes powers to make “urgent changes” with no parliamentary scrutiny – but where the measures themselves expire after a month.