Britain targets legal certainty with plan to convert EU law after Brexit

Brexit minister David Davis told Parliament that the “Great Repeal Bill” will convert EU law into British law.
Brexit minister David Davis told Parliament that the “Great Repeal Bill” will convert EU law into British law.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (REUTERS) – The British government set out on Thursday (March 30) how it will handle the mammoth task of converting European Union laws into domestic legislation in preparation for its exit from the bloc, seeking to ease business uncertainty about life after Brexit.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Theresa May formally notified Brussels of Britain’s intention to leave the EU after more than 40 years of membership, during which tens of thousands of EU-related laws have made their way onto the British statute book, governing almost everything from farming to finance.

On Thursday, her ministers set out how they intend to unpick that complex legislative web by initially converting the entire body of EU law into British law – a step seen as necessary to ensure continuity for businesses trading across EU borders.

The plan centres around a “Great Repeal Bill” due to be laid before parliament in May. 

The bill will transpose EU law, repeal the 1972 European Communities Act which formalises Britain’s EU membership, and give ministers the power to change existing laws to make sure they work after Brexit. 

“The bill will convert EU law into United Kingdom law, allowing businesses to continue operating knowing the rules have not changed overnight, and providing fairness to individuals, whose rights and obligations will not be subject to sudden change,” Brexit minister David Davis told parliament.

Analysis by Thomson Reuters says 52,741 laws have been introduced in the UK as a result of EU legislation since 1990, and research published by parliament estimates 13.2 per cent of British primary and secondary legislation enacted between 1993 and 2004 was EU-related.

The bill is expected to be subject to close scrutiny, with companies saying they cannot plan without knowing what comes after Brexit, forcing them to put investment programmes on hold and sometimes delaying major infrastructure projects.

POWER GRAB

Drugmakers are concerned that Brexit will mean Britain leaves the EU-wide European Medicines Agency, forcing the creation of a separate British system for drug approvals. That will mean more red tape and could delay new medicines reaching Britain.

The government’s proposals did not specifically address those concerns, which are replicated in other industries such as finance and aviation where firms worry leaving the EU will mean leaving regulatory bodies that authorise them to trade.

Aides said membership of EU agencies would be a matter for May’s negotiation.

The plan also raised hackles among some politicians who fear the government will use the Brexit process to reshape EU laws without proper parliamentary scrutiny as they move them into British law.

The Liberal Democrats called it a “shameless power grab” and the main opposition Labour Party demanded tighter controls on the powers that the government wants to grant itself to amend legislation without consulting lawmakers.