The Great Repeal Bill
It is always worrying when a government proposes new legislation with a title preceded by “Great” – usually a sign that drastic changes are required. Political historians will be familiar with the Great Reform Act of 1832 which dramatically changed the way in which MP’s were elected to the House of Commons. Now, following the Brexit vote, we are faced with the Great Repeal Bill (GRB). One can only assume from the title that it will be not only great in its scope but also in its importance.
In October 2016, the government announced that the GRB would provide the legislative framework for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. The scale and complexity of the legislative challenges posed by Brexit is huge. It is estimated that over 20,000 EU legislative acts are in force of which at least 5,000 form regulations directly applicable to the UK. The government has now published a White Paper setting out in broad terms its strategy for the legislative changes which will be required as a result of Brexit.
The first step in that process will occur on the day the UK actually leaves the EU, probably in the spring of 2019 when the European Communities Act 1972 (ECA) will be repealed. In one fell swoop, the Act which gives effect to EU law in our domestic law will disappear, potentially leaving behind it a huge vacuum. Even the government has admitted that repeal of the ECA on its own will lead to a “confused and incomplete legal system”.
The proposed solution is, “wherever practical and sensible”, to convert EU law as it applies in the UK to domestic law, leaving no gaps in our legislation. The White Paper states that “as a general rule” the same rules and laws will apply immediately after Brexit leaving as they did immediately before. Parliament and the devolved governments in Scotland and Wales will then decide which elements of the converted body to keep, amend or scrap.
Parliament will also create new powers for ministers to make secondary legislation to correct laws that will no longer operate correctly and to reflect the content of any agreement reached with the EU during the Brexit negotiations.
It is hard to imagine how members of Parliament and civil servants will be able to keep on top of this massive task over the next two years and beyond. No doubt that is why the Repeal Bill is being described as Great.
This article first appeared in Business East, 26th April 2017.
Toby Pound is a partner and head of the Property department at Barker Gotelee.