The Great Repeal Bill that will pick apart Britain’s legislative entanglement with the European Union has finally been published.
An act of parliament this significant was always going to be contentious.
For those who backed Remain in last year’s referendum, the weighty documents are a grim reminder of the scale of the task facing Britain as it adjusts to its new situation.
For Brexiteers, the publishing of the bill marks a significant milestone in the bid to take back control, with one anti-EU tabloid calling the bill a figurehead of our “hard-won freedoms”.
Devolved administrations of the UK are particularly apoplectic about the provisions in the bill, which they say amount to a power grab.
Nicola Sturgeon and her Welsh equivalent Carwyn Jones released a joint statement yesterday in which they lambasted the bill.
What’s in the Bill?
The full details haven’t yet been published (and when the repeal motion is eventually committed to print, whole forests could be in danger) but it is clear that the gist is to effectively withdraw Britain from EU laws, and, in the vast majority of cases, adopt the same laws in Britain.
Controversy arose yesterday after it was revealed the extent to which the Government will use the so-called Henry VIII clauses, archaic parliamentary rules which will allow them to switch laws without consulting MPs.
While Number 10 insists this is a mere formality, there are concerns that the Government will use the despotic monarch Henry’s “proclamation” laws to simply pick and choose the parts of the EU regulations they don’t like without putting it to debate or vote in the House of Commons.
Of far more pressing concern, at least to the devolved administrations in Edinburgh and Cardiff (Northern Ireland is currently without a devolved government after power-sharing talks collapsed) is the news that new powers wouldn’t automatically be returned to them.
The changes that will avoid any kind of loopholes as EU is transferred onto British statute books means that even in devolved areas, the powers will go to Westminster in the first isntance.
That’s anathema to the SNP and Labour, who respectively run the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament.
At a UK level, even Jeremy Corbyn, who was historically a Eurosceptic, albeit from a left-wing perspective, has signalled his intent to frustrate the process on these grounds.
With the Henry VIII powers being used to ‘correct’ or even create Government regulations, over a two-year period, the Scottish Government will be, to all intents and purposes, frozen out of areas in which they technically have legislative competence.
The UK Government insists this is a temporary measure, and that appropriate powers will be devolved if and when it is deemed necessary and it can be assured there will be no trade issues within Britain.
As Nicola Sturgeon’s party has hastened to point out, the whole crux of the official Leave campaign last year was about taking back control from Brussels.
Only this week, pro-Brexit MP Ross Thomson, who was recently elected to Aberdeen South, said he was in a meeting with representatives of David Davis’ department about new powers that would come to the Scottish Parliament.
Nicola Sturgeon’s reaction to what she claims are broken promises is to suggest that Holyrood could withhold ‘legislative consent’ for the terms of the UK’s withdrawal.
While this has been interpreting in some sections of the media as a bad to sabotage the entire Brexit process, the actual damage the devolved Governments could wreak is negligible.
They are furious at the ‘imposition’ of the terms of the Great Repeal Bill, and are unhappy at what they feel is a lack of consultation.
There are apocalyptic warnings from all sides of the Brexit debate on steering the bill through parliament.
Liberal Democrats, for their part, are warning that the deal could cost beleaguered Prime Minister Theresa May her job.
Pro-Leave politicians in the Conservative Party want Mrs May to take a firm line against the devolved adminstrations.
It seems that the impasse is set to continue.
While it may be the best option legally, not passing on powers to devolved Governments is politically damaging for Theresa May.
As the criticise the ‘Power Grab’ of May’s Government, the SNP will push for a slowing down of the departure or a greater say in the entire Brexit process.
With timing crucial, the former is almost impossible, and the latter is certainly improbable.
This is a row that could rumble on and on.