It’s about democracy, stupid: Why remainers and leavers should both support amending the Repeal Bill (Labour Uncut)

Labour Uncut

8/9/17

http://labour-uncut.co.uk/2017/09/07/its-about-democracy-stupid-why-remainers-and-leavers-should-both-support-amending-the-repeal-bill/

The EU Withdrawal Bill (formerly called the “Great Repeal Bill”) continues its passage through Parliament this week. Theresa May claims she is delivering the “will of the people”, yet she is doing the opposite. The Bill will grant the government such egregious powers that, in relation to a swathe of vital legal rights and protections, it no longer has to take the “will of the people” into account.

 

The bill is fixable. This should unite both “leavers” and “remainers”. Both claim to support democracy. The “leave” campaign based their referendum pitch on restoring the sovereignty of parliament. If they were serious then they should unite in supporting amendments to the Bill.  

 

The British constitution offers us, as citizens, two avenues for holding the government to account: Elected representatives in Parliament make decisions about which laws should govern us and what powers the government should enjoy. The courts allow individuals to hold the government to account for misuse of its powers. The Bill closes off both avenues of accountability. The Henry VIII powers allow the government to overturn primary legislation, the sort that must usually be approved by both the Commons and the Lords, without winning a vote in Parliament. Often a law containing such extensive powers will include a legal “test”, ensuring that the powers can only be used if certain conditions are met. In other words: when it is really necessary. If ministers use the powers without meeting the test, the courts can step in to protect individual rights. This 1/2

It’s about democracy, stupid: Why remainers and leavers should both support amending the Repeal Bill
The EU Withdrawal Bill (formerly called the “Great Repeal Bill”) continues its passage through Parliament this week. Theresa May claims she is delivering the “will of the people”, yet she is doing the opposite. The Bill will grant the government such egregious powers that, in relation to a swathe of vital legal rights and protections, it no longer has to take the “will of the people” into account.
The bill is fixable. This should unite both “leavers” and “remainers”. Both claim to support democracy. The “leave” campaign based their referendum pitch on restoring the sovereignty of parliament. If they were serious then they should unite in supporting amendments to the Bill.
The British constitution offers us, as citizens, two avenues for holding the government to account: Elected representatives in Parliament make decisions about which laws should govern us and what powers the government should enjoy. The courts allow individuals to hold the government to account for misuse of its powers. The Bill closes off both avenues of accountability. The Henry VIII powers allow the government to overturn primary legislation, the sort that must usually be approved by both the Commons and the Lords, without winning a vote in Parliament. Often a law containing such extensive powers will include a legal “test”, ensuring that the powers can only be used if certain conditions are met. In other words: when it is really necessary. If ministers use the powers without meeting the test, the courts can step in to protect individual rights. This Bill allows ministers to use Henry VIII powers, effectively, at their own discretion. As a result, there is no way for individuals to seek redress in the courts if the powers are misused.
By choking off these avenues of accountability, the government can remove important individual rights and protections without any democratic scrutiny. This means that key protections for workers, the environment, human rights, and consumer protection could disappear overnight. If the Bill is passed in its current form, there will be little that ordinary people, or even elected representatives, can do about it.
Fortunately, we can fix the Bill without delaying Brexit. Put simply: we just need to make sure it does what it was supposed to do all along. When Theresa May first announced the Bill, it was to be a measure that transferred the acquis of EU law into domestic law, so that the UK would not fall off a legal “cliff edge” on Brexit day. It doesn’t need to be any more than that. While some changes must inevitably be made, there is a big difference between tweaking the law to ensure it still works outside the context of the EU, and fundamentally altering it to remove key legal rights.
The first step then is to amend the Bill to ensure that the substance of the rights and protections we enjoy as a result of EU law will not be impacted by the Bill. David Davis has said, on the floor of the House of Commons, that he will not use the bill to make substantive changes. If this is true, there is no need for the Bill to include powers that allow him to do so. Brexit can be accomplished without them. Take them out. The second step is to ensure that our rights and protections are still effective after we leave the EU institutions that

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currently enforce them. There’s little point in having a right if you can’t enjoy it in practice. If the government can’t accomplish Brexit without removing a particular right or protection, then it should ask Parliament for permission first. This is the third step: restoring Parliamentary scrutiny of the government’s decisions regarding our laws.
To oppose the Repeal Bill or advocate amendment is not the same as opposing Brexit. Democrats can accept that our laws may change after we leave the EU. But that change must be achieved through open and accountable processes, not though a bill that subverts the fundamental tenets of our constitution. If the government wants to change the rights and protections we currently enjoy then it should do it the democratic way: with a public debate and a vote in Parliament. Theresa May is fond of talking about “British Values”. There are surely no more fundamental British values than democracy and the rule of law. It’s time to put both back into the Repeal Bill.

By choking off these avenues of accountability, the government can remove important individual rights and protections without any democratic scrutiny. This means that key protections for workers, the environment, human rights, and consumer protection could disappear overnight. If the Bill is passed in its current form, there will be little that ordinary people, or even elected representatives, can do about it.

 

Fortunately, we can fix the Bill without delaying Brexit. Put simply: we just need to make sure it does what it was supposed to do all along. When Theresa May first announced the Bill, it was to be a measure that transferred the acquis of EU law into domestic law, so that the UK would not fall off a legal “cliff edge” on Brexit day. It doesn’t need to be any more than that. While some changes must inevitably be made, there is a big difference between tweaking the law to ensure it still works outside the context of the EU, and fundamentally altering it to remove key legal rights.

 

The first step then is to amend the Bill to ensure that the substance of the rights and protections we enjoy as a result of EU law will not be impacted by the Bill. David Davis has said, on the floor of the House of Commons, that he will not use the bill to make substantive changes. If this is true, there is no need for the Bill to include powers that allow him to do so. Brexit can be accomplished without them. Take them out. The second step is to ensure that our rights and protections are still effective after we leave the EU institutions that currently enforce them. There’s little point in having a right if you can’t enjoy it in practice. If the government can’t accomplish Brexit without removing a particular right or protection, then it should ask Parliament for permission first. This is the third step: restoring Parliamentary scrutiny of the government’s decisions regarding our laws.

 

To oppose the Repeal Bill or advocate amendment is not the same as opposing Brexit. Democrats can accept that our laws may change after we leave the EU. But that change must be achieved through open and accountable processes, not though a bill that subverts the fundamental tenets of our constitution. If the government wants to change the rights and protections we currently enjoy then it should do it the democratic way: with a public debate and a vote in Parliament. Theresa May is fond of talking about “British Values”. There are surely no more fundamental British values than democracy and the rule of law. It’s time to put both back into the Repeal Bill.

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