Great Repeal Bill: the long and winding road to Brexit

Having triggered Article 50, the government has followed its self-prescribed timetable and published the Great Repeal Bill white paper; Legislating for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union.

In a statement to the House of Commons, David Davis MP, Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, outlined three principle elements to the Bill:

  1. Repealing the 1972 European Communities Act.
  2. Converting EU law into UK law, ensuring rules do not change overnight.
  3. Creating the necessary powers to correct the laws that do not operate appropriately outside of the EU.

The title of the Bill is somewhat misleading, given that it will not lead to the ‘bonfire of regulations’ that some Brexiteers had been encouraging. Instead, it will bring EU law on to the UK statute.

The white paper itself contained few surprises in terms of the expected approach to ensuring legislative continuity, but nonetheless illustrated the scale of the technical challenge that the government will face in delivering the smooth and orderly transition that has been promised.

The white paper is critical in that it indicated that the Great Repeal Bill will not be the vehicle for making sector-by-sector changes, but will rather be a highly technical exercise in ensuring that there is a smooth transition that leaves no ‘holes’ in the UK statute book at the point of departure.

The white paper also outlined the nature of the UK’s future interaction with the European Court of Justice. While the Court will have no further jurisdiction in the UK, there is a degree of pragmatism in the approach outlined which recognises the need for continued reference to European case law in ensuring a smooth transition.

The white paper further reflected the recognition that there is concern over the potential extent of ‘Henry VIII’ powers which could limit the level of Parliamentary oversight. The government has attempted to appease its opponents on this matter by positioning the White Paper as the “beginning of a discussion”. In his Statement to Parliament today, Mr Davis was clear that the government was attempting to strike the correct balance, while giving reassurance that a time-limit will be placed on the use of this delegated power.

What happens next?

The white paper confirmed that the Great Repeal Bill will be followed by further Bills over the next two years to ensure the UK is fully prepared for withdrawal from the EU. However, contrary to some prior speculation, little detail on the specifics of these additional Bills has been set out. Two examples were cited; a Customs Bill to establish a framework to implement a UK customs regime, and an Immigration Bill “so nothing will change for any EU citizen, whether already resident in the UK or moving from the EU, without Parliament’s approval”. However this is the extent of information about the additional Bills that is given in the paper.

At this stage, what we do know is that a significant amount of the next Parliamentary session will be consumed by the mechanics of the Great Repeal Bill and the supplementary Bills that follow it.