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Former Tory minister: Brexit bill breaches the constitution and MPs should not support it

John Ashmore

3 min read

A former Attorney General today sounded the alarm on the Government’s flagship Brexit bill, saying it will allow ministers to ride roughshod over the British constitution.

The aim of the EU Withdrawal Bill - which MPs will begin debating tomorrow - is to transfer over 40 years’ worth of European laws into British statute, except in areas such as immigration where the Government has committed to make fundamental changes.

Ministers say the bill will prevent a “cliff edge” for businesses when the UK exits the European Union on 30 March, 2019.

But critics say it will hand the Government sweeping "Henry VIII" powers allowing them to circumvent parliament to change the law.

Dominic Grieve, who served in David Cameron’s Cabinet for four years, said that “no sovereign Parliament” should support the legislation in its current form.

Writing in today’s Evening Standard, Mr Grieve said: Unfortunately, the Withdrawal Bill is not, at present, up to addressing these issues.

“Even more worryingly, it seeks to confer powers on the Government to carry out Brexit in breach of our constitutional principles, in a manner that no sovereign Parliament should allow.”

He said the Henry VII powers “should both be reduced and better defined in scope”, and be subject to “affirmative parliamentary scrutiny” to make sure they are not misused.


Among the other concerns the eminent lawyer raised is the fact that the Charter of Fundamental of Rights of the EU – the “bedrock of how EU law should be applied” – will no longer apply after Brexit.

That means British citizens will no longer have the “rights and remedies” that currently allow them to appeal against potentially unlawful legislation, he said.

“The Charter has been criticised because of a tendency of the Court of Justice of the EU to interpret it in ways that are considered to wrongly expand its scope,” Mr Grieve argued.

“But it and the general principles of EU law it reflects are essential safeguards for individuals and businesses that might be adversely affected by the application of EU law and they cannot and should not be removed in this fashion.”


Mr Grieve's comments echoed those made by Britain’s most senior judge, Lord Neuberger, last month.

The president of the Supreme Court, who will step down this month, urged the Government to make “very clear” what courts should do about decisions from the European Court of Justice.

"If [the Government] doesn't express clearly what the judges should do about decisions of the ECJ after Brexit, or indeed any other topic after Brexit, then the judges will simply have to do their best,” he said.

"But to blame the judges for making the law when parliament has failed to do so would be unfair."

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