Parliament has today (13 July 2017) published the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, or what has more commonly become known as the ‘Great Repeal Bill’.
In essence, it is relatively simple – section 2 states clearly that all UK legislation that is based on EU law “as it has effect in domestic law immediately before exit day, continues to have effect in domestic law on and after exit day”, whilst section 3 states that all EU legislation that is enforceable in the UK “so far as operative immediately before exit day, forms part of domestic law on and after exit day”. In other words, all legally-enforceable EU laws will remain in force in the UK after Brexit.
The European Communities Act 1972, the statute that binds the UK to the EU institution, will be repealed on exit day.
The UK Government then has the option to comb through that EU law it was once bound by, and remove it from the statute books one regulation at a time, at its leisure and without any pressure of time.
Section 5 of the Bill is interesting, insofar that it clearly states that UK law is superior to EU law with effect to all new laws made on or after exit day … but EU law will still apply when it comes to interpreting any of the EU laws that remain in force after Brexit by reason of sections 2 and 3.
However, section 6 is absolutely clear – “a court is not bound by any principles laid down, or any decisions made, on or after exit day by the European Court”, but also goes on to say “a court need not have regard to anything done on or after exit day by the European Court, another EU entity or the EU, but may do so if it considers it appropriate to do so”. Which raises the interesting prospect of continuing to rely on past EU case law after Brexit, even if it won’t actually be legally-binding.
‘Exit day’, as it has now officially been named, is scheduled to be 29th March 2019 … although don’t be surprised if negotiations between the UK and the EU stall, and the two entities agree to extend that date.
The Bill contains a lot of other text – 66 pages to be precise, some of which deals with what powers the devolved assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will and will not have. As well as what powers the Government has to make additional regulations relating to Brexit without having to have them approved by a vote in Parliament but, in a nutshell, that’s it. That is the framework under which the UK will leave the EU in less than two years’ time.
And so the process begins of getting the Bill approved by Parliament … and that’s not going to be an easy process, as every Party (and many MPs) will want to amend the Bill to protect their particular interest. The Bill will be battered and bruised over the coming weeks, and will most likely end up being approved by Parliament in a form that is quite different to that published today.
But that’s only half the battle – whilst the Government negotiates the exit deal with the EU, civil servants will undoubtedly be working their way through the tens-of-thousands of pieces of EU legislation to determine whether they will be retained after Brexit, or removed from UK law altogether and, if the latter, with what degree of urgency. That is not an enviable task.