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Bringing EU laws on UK statute books 'could take a DECADE'





  • Brexit Secretary unveiling Great Repeal Bill to untangle the UK from EU laws 
  • Proposals will see 50,000 pieces of Brussels legislation put on UK statute books
  • But former Commons Clerk has warned the process could take 10 years 

By Tim Sculthorpe, Deputy Political Editor For Mailonline and James Tapsfield, Political Editor For Mailonline

Published: 04:44 EDT, 30 March 2017 | Updated: 10:24 EDT, 30 March 2017

David Davis has unveiled his sweeping plans to transfer EU laws on to the UK statute book.

The Brexit Secretary said the Great Repeal Bill was an essential part of the process of leaving the European Union.

This legislation does not delete EU laws from the statute book but means after 2019 Parliament will be free to amend or remove them at will for the first time in decades.

It also means the UK Supreme Court will be the highest court in the land from day one of Brexit, replacing the  EU court in Brussels. 

Once Brexit is finished, EU red tape such as working time restrictions, a ban traditional light bulbs and limits on vacuum cleaners can in future be freely changed.

The announcement was overshadowed by a warning from a former Commons clerk - Britain's leading expert on Parliamentary procedure - that the process of sorting out 44 years of EU laws could take a decade.

Mr Davis is facing a battle with some MPs over using 'Henry VIII' executive powers to tweak around 1,000 of the laws to ensure they function properly after Brexit. 

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David Davis unveiled details of the Great Repeal Bill, which will bring thousands of pieces of EU legislation on to the UK statute books and get rid of the law underpinning our membership, in the Commons today (pictured)  David Davis unveiled details of the Great Repeal Bill, which will bring thousands of pieces of EU legislation on to the UK statute books and get rid of the law underpinning our membership, in the Commons today (pictured) 

David Davis unveiled details of the Great Repeal Bill, which will bring thousands of pieces of EU legislation on to the UK statute books and get rid of the law underpinning our membership, in the Commons today (pictured) 

The Brexit Secretary unveiled plans in the Commons today that will transpose huge amounts of legislation from Brussels to provide 'certainty' as we leave the bloc. The Brexit Secretary unveiled plans in the Commons today that will transpose huge amounts of legislation from Brussels to provide 'certainty' as we leave the bloc.

The Brexit Secretary unveiled plans in the Commons today that will transpose huge amounts of legislation from Brussels to provide 'certainty' as we leave the bloc.

Mr Davis told MPs: 'We have been clear that we want a smooth and orderly exit, and the Great Repeal Bill is integral to that approach.

'It will provide clarity and certainty for businesses, workers and consumers across the United Kingdom on the day we leave the EU.

'It will mean that as we exit the EU and seek a new deep and special partnership with the European Union, we will be doing so from the position where we have the same standards and rules.

WHAT DOES THE GREAT REPEAL BILL DO? 

David Davis has unveiled a huge new piece of legislation that will translate EU legislation into UK law after Brexit.

It means all existing laws will still work the same way the day after Brexit happens but that Parliament has full power to amend or repeal as it likes in future.

The Bill will scrap the European Communities Act 1972, which is the main law implementing Britain's EU membership. 

It will also scrap other EU treaties signed by Britain and the rules they impose. 

Crucially, this will end the 'supremacy' of EU law and mean Parliament is the senior law-making body in the law. It also means European Court rulings will no longer outrank the Supreme Court.

Many EU laws are imposed on Britain via directives and they exist in three main forms at the moment:   

Primary legislation:  Primary legislation are laws passed as Acts of Parliament - such as the Equality Act 2010. This includes laws to implements various directives including Council Directive 2000/78/EC, which establishes a general framework for equal treatment for people in work.

Secondary legislation under the European Communities Act 1972: This includes laws made under section 2(2) of the European Communities Act, which is the main law for Britain's EU membership.

An example is the Energy Performance of Buildings (England and Wales) Regulations 2012, which give effect to parts of EU Directive 2010/31/EU, implementing rules on the energy performance of buildings

Other secondary legislation:  For example, the Railways and Other Guided Transport Systems (Safety) Regulations 2006, which contain health and safety rules demanded by EU Directive 2004/49/EC. This is imposed as part of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

'But it will also ensure that we deliver on our promise to end the supremacy of EU law in the UK as we exit.

'Our laws will then be made in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast and interpreted not by judges in Luxembourg but by judges across the United Kingdom.' 

In response, shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said all existing rights and protections must be maintained as part of measures to convert EU law into the UK system. 

Sir Keir warned the Government is seeking to provide itself with 'sweeping powers' so it can use a procedure that requires less scrutiny from MPs to change primary legislation.

He said no safeguards against such powers are outlined in the white paper published by the Government.

Speaking in the Commons, Sir Keir said: 'There should be no change to rights and protections without primary legislation - that is a starting and basic principle, and the same goes for policy.

'I add this, when we see the Bill there should be no power to change rights and obligations and protections in the future by delegated legislation.

'I ask (Mr Davis) to provide assurance on those basic principles this morning, and I ask him to look again at safeguards for the delegated legislation procedures that are proposed.

'As to the 'what is to happen' in relation to converting law into domestic law, again there have to be clear principles.

'All rights and protections derived from EU law must be converted into domestic law - all rights and protections, no limitations, no qualifications and no sunset clauses.

'This morning we need an assurance from (Mr Davis) that he will face down those on his own side who will not be able to resist the temptation to water these rights and protections down before they're even put into this Bill.'

Ahead of Mr Davis's announcement, former Commons Clerk Lord Lisvane voiced serious doubts that the process could be completed within the two years it will take for us complete the EU divorce.

'I won't just be two years,' he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. 'It could go on for a decade.' 

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said all existing rights and protections must be maintained as part of measures to convert EU law into the UK system Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said all existing rights and protections must be maintained as part of measures to convert EU law into the UK system

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said all existing rights and protections must be maintained as part of measures to convert EU law into the UK system

The tortuous parliamentary project will formally repeal the 1972 European Communities Act – the law which took the UK into the EU.

WHICH EU LAWS COULD BE DELETED IN FUTURE? 

While the Great Repeal Bill announced today does not directly remove any of the EU laws hated by Eurosceptics, it paves the way for their removal in future.

By making EU law into British law, Parliament will after March 2019 be allowed to re-write them at will.

Trouble making laws at the top of the list could be: 

  • Working time rules that limit how many hours a person can legally work. This is a particular problem for training doctors and surgeons who need hours to perfect techniques. 
  • Legislation on household goods like toasters and vacuum cleaners. EU rules on energy efficiency capped the power of common devices to the irritation of consumers.
  • The ban on incandescent light bulbs. The EU banned traditional light bulbs, that use a heated filament, on the grounds they are bad for the environment - but many consumers feel energy saving ones are too dim. 

It will also transfer reams of existing EU law onto the domestic statute book.

A study by Thomson Reuters found there have been 52,741 relevant pieces of legislation passed by Brussels since 1990 alone.

But Mr Davis said the process would give businesses, workers and investors 'maximum security and certainty'.

He said it would allow a smooth and stable transition to the post-Brexit world. The laws can then be amended by Parliament once the UK leaves.

Mr Davis's White Paper setting out the Bill's contents has now been presented to Parliament.

Mr Davis said: 'At the heart of the referendum decision was sovereignty. 

A strong, independent country needs control of its own laws.

'That process starts now.'

'Converting EU law into UK law, and ending the supremacy of lawmakers in Brussels, is an important step in giving businesses, workers and consumers the certainty they need,' he said.

'And it will mean that as we seek a comprehensive new economic partnership with the EU, our allies will know that we start from a position where we have the same standards and rules.'

Lord Lisvane, who as Robert Rogers served as the Commons Clerk, said tidying up legislation as we leave the EU could take a decade Lord Lisvane, who as Robert Rogers served as the Commons Clerk, said tidying up legislation as we leave the EU could take a decade

Lord Lisvane, who as Robert Rogers served as the Commons Clerk, said tidying up legislation as we leave the EU could take a decade

The Henry VIII powers allow ministers to bypass full Parliamentary scrutiny in order to change the wording of laws as they are repatriated.

Critics say it puts too much control in the hands of the government without oversight by MPs and peers.

WHAT ARE HENRY VIII POWERS?  

Henry VIII powers are used today but are based on 16th Century laws passed by the king  Henry VIII powers are used today but are based on 16th Century laws passed by the king 

Henry VIII powers are used today but are based on 16th Century laws passed by the king 

Some legislation give ministers the power to repeal or amend laws without going through the normal process.

They are a rare form of executive legal power in the British system and are known as 'Henry VIII' powers because they are based on laws passed by the king in 1539.  

Use of the powers is not unheard of but is relatively unusual.

The Government is being criticised for expanding their use, with time limits, as part of the Great Repeal Bill to allow ministers to remove references to EU treaties in existing legislation.

Ministers say this corrects laws to take account of Brexit without changing them but critics fear a dramatic expansion of government power. 

Mr Davis is giving details of the package the day after Theresa May formally invoked Article 50 to launch our EU divorce.

European leaders reacted with anger after the PM delivered a tough message in the historic letter, which was handed to European Council President Donald Tusk in the Belgian capital by UK envoy Sir Tim Barrow.

It included a threat that Britain could withhold intelligence and security resources, on which Europe is heavily reliant, unless a fair agreement is struck.

She also called for discussions on the divorce bill to run in parallel with talks on future trade links, saying there must be a 'comprehensive' deal.

But Mrs May's warning was described as tantamount to blackmail by Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament's Brexit negotiator.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also made clear she would not accept the UK demands on the timetable. 

In a round of broadcast interviews this morning, Mr Davis portrayed the responses in the EU as posturing, stressing that negotiations were only just getting under way.

'I spent all of yesterday afternoon on the telephone talking to my opposite numbers in the Parliament, in the commission, around all the member states,' he told ITV's Good Morning Britain.

'Virtually all of them said spontaneously, it's a very positive letter, the tone was good, and so on.'

European Council president Donald Tusk was handed the historic Article 50 letter by the UK's representative Sir Tim Barrow in Brussels yesterday European Council president Donald Tusk was handed the historic Article 50 letter by the UK's representative Sir Tim Barrow in Brussels yesterday

European Council president Donald Tusk was handed the historic Article 50 letter by the UK's representative Sir Tim Barrow in Brussels yesterday

 

 

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Bringing EU laws on UK statute books 'could take a DECADE'
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