LONDON • Britain published legislation yesterday to sever political, financial and legal ties with the European Union, an important step towards Brexit but one which the opposition said it would challenge.
The Repeal Bill is central to the government's plan to exit the EU in 2019, disentangling Britain from more than 40 years of EU lawmaking and repealing the treaty that first made Britain a member in 1972. Its passage through Parliament could make or break Mrs Theresa May's future as prime minister.
Opposition politicians are plotting to unite with rebels in Mrs May's Conservative Party to rewrite the legislation. That could end up softening the ultimate Brexit.
Brexit Minister David Davis said the Bill will ensure Britain will have a "fully functioning legal system" on leaving the EU.
"This Bill means that we will be able to exit the European Union with maximum certainty, continuity and control," he said in a statement.
But overhauling decades of legislation through scrapping the 1972 European Communities Act is no small task, particularly with opponents planning hundreds of amendments to the Bill.
"We have very serious issues with the government's approach, and unless the government addresses those issues, we will not be supporting the Bill," the Labour main opposition's Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer told The Guardian newspaper.
HOW MUCH EUROPEAN LAW IS THERE
Number of items covering everything from workers' rights to environment and trade (2010 est.)
EU regulations, as well as EU treaties, directions and European Court of Justice rulings..
Referring to the parliamentary debate ahead of Brexit proceedings, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: "This will be hell."
Within her party, rebellion by pro-Brexit lawmakers and pro-Europeans could derail the legislation and test Mrs May's ability to negotiate a compromise or find support from opposition parties. If she fails, her position could swiftly become untenable.
The publication of the Bill is the first step in a long legislative process. It will be closely examined to see how the government plans to carry out the difficult and time-consuming technical exercise of transposing EU law. The Bill sets out powers for ministers, with the approval of Parliament, to correct laws to ensure they work after being brought into British law. These powers will exist until two years after the day Britain leaves.
Lawmakers have expressed concern that the sheer volume of work could limit their ability to scrutinise the changes effectively and fear the government will introduce policy change by the back door.
The government also published position papers on other major issues after being urged by EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier to do so ahead of more exit talks next week. "We need to know on which points we agree and on which points we disagree, so that we can negotiate in earnest," he said in Brussels.
Britain duly outlined its stance on nuclear materials and there was also a paper on judicial matters - a significant hurdle as London and Brussels disagree on whether the European Court of Justice will continue to have jurisdiction.
Mr Barnier was to meet Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn yesterday.
"Labour respects the referendum result and the decision to leave the European Union," Mr Corbyn said in an e-mailed statement before the meeting. "But a Labour Brexit would look very different to the race-to- the-bottom tax haven backed by this Conservative government."
The head of Britain's public spending watchdog blasted failures in government leadership over Brexit and raised fears about "vague" exit plans.
Mr Amyas Morse said ministers were not delivering a unified front on challenges of quitting the EU and warned the response could fall apart like a "chocolate orange", referring to a popular candy bar that breaks into segments when tapped.
The National Audit Office chief said failure to prepare for Customs would become a "horror show" if officials were forced to process imports and exports manually.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG