I heard an item on the wireless about the name that has been given to the Government’s ‘Great Repeal Bill’ which legislates for our exit from the European Union. The commentators claimed that no such bill had ever been so named before. I think they are wrong, and that they have ignored the statute of repeal passed by Parliament after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, and known as the ‘Great Repealer’.
They share a name but their intentions are complete opposites. The aim of the 1660 statute of was to wipe the slate clean, expunging all the laws passed under Cromwell’s Commonwealth. The modern statute, shortly to be introduced, will have the very different effect of incorporating all EU regulation into UK law.
For a Eurosceptic like myself, the thought of accepting all that ghastly EU regulation into our own law, just at the moment when we thought were about to escape from it, requires some explanation.
That explanation is twofold. First, after 42 years and thousands of items of complicated legislation, the task of unwinding it all in the two years available before we are out of the EU, is just far too time consuming and difficult, especially when all government effort is focussed on detailed negotiation of our exit terms. Much more sensible therefore, to incorporate all current EU regulation so that our exit is seamless, and leaving us the luxury of repealing or amending it at our leisure over coming years.
Second, by retaining – at least for the present – all EU regulation, we will begin our status as an independent trading nation with exactly the same rules and standards as the rest of the EU. This will make it much easier for us to trade with the EU, making our departure somewhat less economically disruptive.
Much has been made of the ‘Henry VIII powers’ that will be in the bill, and the synthetic indignation expressed about them by leading opposition politicians. The name suggests that the Government is seeking to rule by proclamation in the way that Henry VIII did (and link it by association, with Henry’s tyrannical rule – he may have executed as many as 72,000 people, a much larger total than that achieved by Bloody Mary his daughter).
I hate to spoil a good story with facts, but this is a load of nonsense. The so called Henry VIII powers are not uncommon in parliamentary bills. Often bills will grant ministers powers to make detailed regulations once the bill has become law. Somewhat less frequently, that power to regulate will extend to enabling the minister to amend other acts of Parliament. This power is narrowly defined in the statute, and is subject to detailed parliamentary scrutiny: any such regulation must be approved by Parliament in a statutory instrument by a vote in both Houses. Not quite Henry VIII’s style.
The reason for granting these powers to alter the law by ministerial regulation is to enable the huge volumes of legal changes that will need to be made, without tying up our legislative programme in Parliament for years to come.
We have other fish to fry.