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Furious Lords accuse ministers of 'unprecedented' power grab over Brexit bill

Emilio Casalicchio

4 min read

A House of Lords committee has launched a furious attack on ministers over "unprecedented" plans to transfer power from Parliament to the Government over Brexit.

In an angrily-worded report, the Constitution Committee accuse Theresa May of misrepresenting a previous investigation they carried out into the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, which starts its second reading in the Commons today.

Ministers have previously claimed the committee had endorsed their plans to use so-called "Henry VIII powers" to transfer EU law onto the British statute book on 30 March, 2019 without the need for Commons votes.

But in their specially-prepared report, the committee accuse the Prime Minister and Brexit Secretary David Davis of "misquoting" their views to suit their own agenda.

The peers also claim the Government has ignored their calls for Parliament to be able to properly scrutinise their actions and hold ministers to account.

Baroness Taylor, the chair of the committee, said: "The EU (Withdrawal) Bill represents an extraordinary transfer of legal powers from Parliament to the Government, without the additional oversight we recommended. We believe this will create very real difficulties for Parliament in fulfilling its constitutional role to scrutinise this Bill.

"We acknowledge that the Government needs significant powers in order to deliver legal certainty after Brexit. However, we warned the Government that such powers must come with tougher parliamentary scrutiny mechanisms and we are disappointed that we have not only been misquoted by the Government, but that our key recommendations have been ignored.

"The committee will launch a full inquiry on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill shortly."

MPs began debating the bill this afternoon and will vote on it on Monday night.

Labour has whipped its MPs to vote against the legislation because of its concerns over the Henry VIII powers.

A party spokesperson said: "In this bill, the Government is making a power grab to change a whole set of legislation and rules without recourse to Parliament.

"That ranges from the date of Brexit to the amount of money paid to the EU to employment and social legislation and environmental legislation.

"Under the proposals, the Brexit Secretary can make these changes at the stroke of a pen. That is completely undemocratic."

However, the party's stance faced criticism during the debate from its own beckbenches, with Labour MP Kate Hoey, saying it was "hypocritical"  given that the last Labour government had “doubled the number of statutory instruments to introduce new law.” 

The Vauxhall MP, who campaigned for Brexit alongside Nigel Farage, added that voting against the second reading would seem like a betrayal to Labour voters that had come back “after fraternising with Ukip.”        

In a statement yesterday, Theresa May said: "The Repeal Bill helps deliver the outcome the British people voted for by ending the role of the EU in UK law, but it’s also the single most important step we can take to prevent a cliff-edge for people and businesses, because it provides legal certainty.
"We’ve made time for proper parliamentary scrutiny of Brexit legislation, and I look forward to the contributions of MPs from across the House.
"But that contribution should fit with our shared aim: to help get the best Brexit for Britain."

David Davis added: "We are not rejecting EU law, but embracing the work done between member states in over 40 years of membership and using that solid foundation to build on in the future.

He added: "I hope everyone in this House recognises this bill's essential nature - it is the foundation upon which we will legislate for years to come - and I look forward to working with the whole House to deliver the bill."

Pro-Remain Tory MPs have said they will back the bill but amend it at committee stage - although they have also raised concerns about parliamentary scrutiny.

Speaking in the debate this afternoon, ex-minister and legal expert Dominic Grieve described it as an "astonishing monstrosity of a bill," after raising  deep concerns about the legislation yesterday. 

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