Brexit: What are Henry VIII powers?

It would be a brave politician who would compare themselves to Henry VIII, but the legendary tyrant's influence is set to loom large over the Brexit process.
Henry VIII.  Picture: PAHenry VIII.  Picture: PA
Henry VIII. Picture: PA

A set of laws that Britain’s most famous monarch enacted will be used to help the Government steer through the catch-all law extrapolating the country from EU rules and regulations.

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Nicola Sturgeon calls Brexit Repeal Bill a '˜crude power grab'

The so-called “Henry VIII powers” are set to give Theresa May a headache as opposition politicians set to exploit her weakness to try and frustrate the Brexit process.

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Parliament’s archaic way of doing things might be beloved by traditionalists and historians, but they also have their drawbacks.

What are the Henry VIII Powers?

Enacted in 1539, the powers refer to a law in parliament (which pre-dates the Union) that allowed the King to effectively proclaim laws without consulting his MPs.

Henry’s legendary political right-hand man, Thomas Cromwell, apparently often frustrated by the lack of urgency in parliament, crafted the law.

Even though Royal power was far greater 500 years ago than it is now, but even then, there was clearly a desire to give legal weighting to the monarch’s declarations.

Why use them now?

The Great Repeal Bill, promised for months, but just published, is one of the most difficult pieces of work ever undertaken in Government.

The sheer amount of regulations, number in the tens of thousands, that Britain is a part of thanks to the EU, means a ‘statutory instrument’ is needed to avoid any lengthy delays to the the date of Britain’s departure in around 18 months.

Using the Henry VIII powers to achieve this does make the process easier, but also means that MPs don’t vote or debate on them.

The Government says that these “corrections” are designed to swiftly conclude the process of changing EU and UK law, both of which are vastly complicated.

Why the controversy?

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Any Government doing anything without a vote or debate by MPs is always destined to stir up some controversy.

In this instance, Theresa May is being accused of using Brexit as a ‘power grab’, especially by the opposition and devolved administrations.

That the name of a gluttonous despot adorns the instrument that the Government will use only serves to heighten the tension around Britain’s withdrawal.

The charge is that the Government will simply change legislation that doesn’t suit their agenda, rather than just working to ensure a smooth transition.