About the Great Repeal Bill

Commuters pass the Elizabeth Tower, also known as Big Ben, at the Houses of Parliament in London.
Commuters pass the Elizabeth Tower, also known as Big Ben, at the Houses of Parliament in London. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

The so-called Great Repeal Bill being introduced by British Prime Minister Theresa May will be seen as a milestone in Britain's ongoing departure from the European Union. Here is a quick overview:

Q What will the Great Repeal Bill do?

A It will repeal the European Communities Act of 1972, which gave effect and priority to EU law in Britain. It signifies that the British are taking control of their legal destiny.

A White Paper outlining the proposal and entitled "Legislating for the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union" was published by Mrs May's government yesterday.

Q What does that accomplish?

A The two-year timeframe for Brexit makes it impossible to replace all EU law with new domestic legislation. The hope is that, by adopting EU laws for now, Britain will reassure businesses and investors that nothing will change precipitously during the Brexit process.

Future governments will then be able to "amend, repeal and improve any law it chooses", subject to international treaty obligations, Mrs May has said.

Q How many laws are we talking about?

A The Brexit Department estimates that the government will need to pass 800 to 1,000 statutory instruments to correct EU law after Brexit. There are 5,155 regulations and 899 directives among almost 19,000 pieces of EU-related legislation currently in force, according to the House of Commons library.

The number was a bone of contention during the referendum, prompting the Leave campaign's successful slogan offering voters the chance to "take back control".

Q Will EU laws be copied exactly into British law?

A In sections where EU legislation refers to European regulatory bodies, British ministers must change the wording and identify British bodies to take on those roles.

The government plans to award ministers the ability to change laws without consulting Parliament.

But with Mrs May's party having a working majority of only 17, that means a small rebellion by her fellow Conservatives could upend this part of the plan.

Q Are some rules viewed as off-limits to changes?

A Mrs May has promised to build on EU protections for working people, which include paid holidays, health and safety at work and maternity leave.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 31, 2017, with the headline 'About the Great Repeal Bill'. Print Edition | Subscribe