UK’s May unveils Brexit repeal bill as opposition mount

LONDON • Theresa May unveiled the landmark law that will remove Britain from the European Union (EU), setting up clashes with Opposition parties and the Scottish government that will prove the prime minister’s biggest tests since her Conservative Party lost its parliamentary majority.

The so-called repeal bill is aimed at transferring EU laws on to the British statute book for when Brexit takes place in March 2019. The draft released yesterday would hand the government two years to alter UK law through a fast-track process.

It would not bring the EU charter of fundamental rights into domestic law, putting the Conservative government on an immediate collision course with the main Opposition parties. Labour’s Brexit spokesman, Keir Starmer, has made the incorporation of the charter one of the “six tests” he will apply when the party is voting.

In another significant turn, the bill allows the Scottish Parliament a separate vote.

Labour is already plotting to unite with rebel Tories to rewrite the legislation. Without an automatic majority, May’s team is preparing for months of attritional battles and will seek to form alliances of its own with rivals, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be named discussing internal plans.

It would take only seven lawmakers from May’s Tory party to rebel in order to potentially defeat the government in any vote in the House of Commons. The end result could mean a softer form of Brexit and May being pushed from power.

The bill was published on the first anniversary of May taking office and came hours after the government released position papers on three areas of Brexit. It said it wants to “ensure a smooth and orderly end to the jurisdiction” of the highest court in the EU and to maintain a “close and effective relationship” with the body which oversees how radioactive materials are handled.

The EU (Withdrawal) Bill, to give the legislation its formal title, is intended to provide regulatory continuity for businesses from aviation to pharmaceuticals and to avoid a legislative black hole appearing overnight as Britain exits theEU.

Brexit Secretary David Davis appealed to other parties for support for the bill to make the Brexit process smoother.

“The eyes of the country are on us, and I will work with anyone to achieve this goal and shape a new future for our country,” he said in a statement.

Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party is unlikely to rally to his call. It questions whether the government should be given a freehand to tweak laws without parliamentary approval and also wants to maintain the fundamental rights charter, which interprets EU human rights.

A year to the day since she succeeded David Cameron, May and her vision of a clean break with the EU are under attack on two fronts — her critics in London who are emboldened by her failure to win a majority in last month’s election and want a softer departure — and the EU’s negotiators who are taking a firm line as talks are set to resume next week.

The power of EU law over the country is a key area of dispute. In a position paper on the matter, the government said it will allow the continuation of pending cases at the European Court of Justice but will not allow new proceedings after the date it leaves — even if the facts in the case happened before.

The court “should not be allowed to rule on UK cases which were not before the court on the day the UK leaves the EU,” the government said in the paper.

The difficulties ahead are not just limited to political manoeuvres as the talks progress. Amyas Morse, the head of the National Audit Office, warned that the practicalities of government departments working together risk the UK approach fragmenting. — Bloomberg