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'Reckless and misleading' to claim that Withdrawal Bill gives Government free rein

5 min read

Steve Baker MP, Minister at the Department for Exiting the EU, argues that it is wrong and quite reckless for anyone to mislead the public in this way.

When the UK voted to leave the European Union last year, we did so because we wanted to control our own laws, to end huge net payments to the EU, to have a migration policy fit for our times and to operate our own independent free trade policy.

As we prepare for our exit, we are determined to do all those things. And we are also determined to provide certainty, continuity and control to British citizens and businesses.

We have therefore brought forward one of the most significant pieces of legislation ever to pass through Parliament.  

This week, that legislation will move to its Second Reading in the House of Commons. Parliament will be asked to back a smooth and orderly exit from the EU that respects the referendum result.

The Repeal Bill will prepare the UK for the day after we leave by converting EU law into UK law, ensuring that, wherever practical, the same rules and laws will apply on the day after exit as on the day before.

The Bill will do three important things: end the supremacy of EU law by repealing the European Communities Act, convert EU law into UK law and create essential temporary powers for Parliament appropriately to correct those laws which would otherwise not function correctly after exit.

It will be a complicated process that will require parliamentarians from across both Houses to work together in a timely and effective manner.

While we will make no major changes to policy through this Bill beyond those appropriate to make the statute book function as intended, our task is not as simple as merely converting EU law into UK law. Many EU laws will not make sense after we have left.

For example, laws may refer to EU institutions or procedures that will no longer be relevant once we have left. Transferring them unamended could be nonsensical.

There might be instances where arrangements would continue to work from a legal perspective but where the policy outcome delivered by that legislation would no longer make sense.  

For example, preserved legislation would continue to require the UK to send information to EU institutions and Member States.  While we would be able to comply with the requirements, if we had not specifically negotiated to go on providing such information, there may be reasons why we no longer wish to continue to do so.

That is why the law preserved from the EU will need to be checked carefully and, where appropriate, corrected to make sure our statute book can continue to function after we leave.

Since the Bill’s introduction in July, there has been a great deal of talk, and some significant misconception, about what it does and how it works.  

The most extraordinary claims have suggested the Bill might give Government free rein to do anything it likes and to avoid scrutiny.

This is wrong and it is quite reckless for anyone to mislead the public in this way. We are not creating some new kind of power for Ministers to use as we please.  

The Secretary of State has repeatedly made clear our commitment to ensuring Parliament can give appropriate scrutiny to the Bill. That has not changed.

The secondary legislation on which the Bill relies uses standard parliamentary procedures.  It relies on Parliament to scrutinise the statutory instruments:  there are a number of parliamentary committees that look at the statutory instruments and publish reports on them as necessary. Many of the instruments will then also require votes in both Houses of Parliament.

As ever, the text of this secondary legislation will be public and therefore it will be open to anyone to engage in public debate on it and to lobby  MPs and peers. What the Government puts to Parliament will be a matter of public record.

Secondary legislation is used frequently. In the previous two five-year Parliaments, an average of 1,338 (2005-10) and 1,071 (2010-15) statutory instruments went through Parliament each year.  Using statutory instruments is the only way we can both provide proper scrutiny and ensure our statute book is ready for exit day.

There are very clear limits on what the power can be used to do.

Put simply, this is a power to tackle problems that arise directly from withdrawal from the EU.  Ministers cannot and will not be able to just change bits of EU law that we don’t like.  And the powers in the Bill cannot be used to create a criminal offence, change taxes or amend the Human Rights Act.  

That is not what this Bill is for.

Leaving the EU means that the UK will once again control its own laws: we will have the freedom to set for ourselves the rules that govern our society. This Bill will make that possible in later legislation.

For now, the most important thing is to ensure we leave the EU in a smooth and orderly way, so that citizens and business in all four nations of the United Kingdom can be confident that rules and laws will not change overnight.

That is precisely what the Repeal Bill is for and that is what the powers in it will be used to do. 

Steve Baker is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Wycombe, and is a Minister at the Department for Exiting the EU

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