PM to announce plans for a ‘great repeal bill’ to enshrine all EU regulations in UK law as soon as Brexit takes effect
by Jessica Elgot, October 1st 2016
Theresa May has confirmed she will trigger article 50 before the end of March 2017, setting in motion the two-year process of leaving the European Union.
The pledge by the prime minister means the UK will leave the EU by spring 2019, before the next general election, with the prime minister also announcing plans for a “great repeal bill” to incorporate all EU regulations in UK law as soon as Brexit takes effect.
May told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday she wanted to give “greater degree of clarity about the sort of timetable we are following” over the process for leaving the EU, as well as committing to enshrining workers’ rights in British law.
In opening speeches at Conservative party conference in Birmingham, May and the Brexit secretary, David Davis, will announce the government’s plan to repeal the 1972 European Communities Act, the law that binds EU law to the British statute book, and new legislation to transpose EU legislation into British law, in its entirety,
That law will only come into force on the day Britain leaves the EU, with future governments then able to unpick those laws as desired.
“This is about delivering for the British people, and this is not just about leaving the EU, it’s about that essential question of the trust people have in their politicians. The people have spoken, we will deliver on that,” May told Marr.
“We’ll be starting the negotiations once we’ve triggered article 50, but I think it’s important to get the right deal for the British people.”
May said she believed it was important to have a deal in place with the EU, hinting that was preferable to a so-called ‘hard Brexit’ in which the UK leaves the bloc without a formal deal in place for a continued trading relationship.
“I think we do want to negotiate what the relationship will be,” she said. “Things will be different in the future, once we leave the EU, we’ll be in a different position. We’ll be an independent country. Crucially, we still do want to have a good relationship with Europe and the European Union.”
The ”great repeal bill” is set to be brought forward in the next parliamentary session, but will not take effect until after the formal two-year process of leaving the EU, which begins when the government triggers article 50
Former minister Anna Soubry, now a spokeswoman for the Open Britain campaign, said the March timing “concerns me greatly, we won’t have had the French elections or the German elections”.
She told ITV: “The idea that we hold the cards, and that the EU is going to come to us and give us pretty much what we want? We aren’t going to get anything like what we’ve got now, we’re going to get something worse, obviously we are, we don’t hold the cards, the EU does.”
In an interview in which the prime minister repeated her decision not to hold a general election before 2020, May told the Sunday Times: “We will introduce, in the next Queen’s speech, a ‘great repeal bill’ that will remove the European Communities Act from the statute book.
“This marks the first stage in the UK becoming a sovereign and independent country once again. It will return power and authority to the elected institutions of our country. It means that the authority of EU law in Britain will end.”
The prime minister has rejected calls from some Eurosceptic quarters to immediately repeal the 1972 act, saying the country needed “maximum security, stability and certainty for workers, consumers, and businesses, as well as for our international allies”.
The commitment to enshrining EU law including employment regulation is designed to project a degree of certainty to British businesses and signal a desire to protect workers’ rights.
In his speech, Davis will say: “To those who are trying to frighten British workers, saying, ‘When we leave, employment rights will be eroded’, I say firmly and unequivocally, ‘No, they won’t.’”
The repeal bill will also mean rulings by the European court of justice will stop applying to the UK,and include powers to make changes to the laws originating from the EU, using secondary legislation as negotiations over the UK’s future relationship proceed.
Davis will tell the conference: “We will follow the process to leave the EU, which is set out in article 50. The prime minister has been clear that she won’t start the formal negotiations about our exit before the end of the year. As we prepare for those negotiations in Europe, we also need to prepare for the impact of Brexit on domestic law.
“It’s very simple. At the moment we leave, Britain must be back in control. And that means EU law must cease to apply. To ensure continuity, we will take a simple approach. EU law will be transposed into domestic law, wherever practical, on exit day. It will be for elected politicians here to make the changes to reflect the outcome of our negotiation and our exit.
“That is what people voted for: power and authority residing once again with the sovereign institutions of our own country.”
The article 50 announcement was welcomed in Berlin, where the German government has been waiting for British politicians to outline its vision of a future relationship with the EU.
Scottish-German Christian Democrat MEP David McAllister, who acted as an intermediary between the British and German governments during David Cameron’s pre-Brexit negotiations, told the Guardian: “The prime minister’s announcement has led to more clarity for everyone involved. That is also important with view to the next European parliamentary elections in 2019”.
Donald Tusk, the president of the European council, said May’s declaration brought “welcome clarity” on the start of Brexit talks. But he appeared to throw cold water over the UK’s wish for preparatory talks by underscoring that negotiations would only begin once May has pressed the button.
He tweeted: “Once art. 50’s triggered, EU27 will engage to safeguard its interests.”
The announcement came as former cabinet minister Ken Clarke warned Britain could take up to eight years to leave the EU, with the process likely to involve an interim agreement with the bloc, post-article 50.
“Then it will take you another five or six years with lots of boffins locked away thrashing out agreements,” he said, warning May would have to be prepared to end up being “one of the most hated people in the country” if she made compromises that angered hardline Eurosceptics.
“Any agreement that is produced will eventually be denounced by the headbanging faction of the Brexiteers as a betrayal – anything short of a tribute in gold being presented to the Queen once a year by the EU. Then they would say she should have three.”
On the fringes of this week’s conference, moderate former ministers and prominent hardline backbenchers will go in to bat for a “soft Brexit” with commitments to stay or have close access to the single market, or to trigger article 50 immediately and be prepared to face export tariffs.
The former education secretary Nicky Morgan, who now chairs the moderate Conservative Mainstream group, will warn in a speech that the Brexit vote was seen as a licence for “harsher rhetoric and returning to policies which have been rejected in the past”.
“There are already those for whom the referendum result is not enough – they want us to have a ‘hard Brexit’ that cuts us off from the EU, turns our back on the single market and allows people to say things about their fellow citizens that promote intolerance and bigotry,” she will say.
Bernard Jenkin, a longtime Eurosceptic and ‘hard Brexit’ advocate, said a growing number of people “support a speedy and clean break with the EU”.
Writing in the Observer, Jenkin said Brussels needed to know the UK was prepared to walk away without a deal. “We need to be aware that article 50, as intended, could tie us up in knots. So we must be prepared to leave without any formal agreement if necessary, or the commission has us over a barrel.”
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