Labour vows to wreck Brexit process by voting against 'Repeal Bill' unless Theresa May makes major changes

'The Government’s Repeal Bill falls short on all counts. It is simply not fit for purpose'

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Thursday 13 July 2017 08:13
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Keir Starmer said Labour would not allow 'any rolling back of rights and protections'
Keir Starmer said Labour would not allow 'any rolling back of rights and protections'

Labour has vowed to try to wreck the Brexit process by voting against the flagship “Repeal Bill”, unless Theresa May makes dramatic changes.

Keir Starmer, the party’s Brexit spokesman, said Labour would attempt to defeat the legislation in just three months’ time – significantly tightening the screw on the Prime Minister.

He attacked the Government for refusing to listen to calls – from MPs of all parties – to re-write its Brexit plans since they were first published in March.

Now Labour is demanding the Bill includes full protection of rights for British workers and consumers, of environmental standards and the devolution of powers across the country.

It is also determined to prevent a Government power grab through the use of delegated “Henry VIII powers”, allowing future changes without proper Parliamentary scrutiny.

Sir Keir said: “Labour has always been clear that Brexit cannot lead to any rolling back of rights and protections.

“We need effective legislation that protects British workers and consumers, enshrines equality laws, enforces environmental standards and devolves powers across the country.

“The Government’s Repeal Bill falls short on all counts. It is simply not fit for purpose.”

The Repeal Bill, published today, will convert EU law into UK law before Brexit is completed in 2019, allowing the Government to propose which bits should be retained or junked.

Labour accepts it will not be able to defeat it at its second reading in October without a revolt by some Conservative MPs, given Ms May’s working Commons majority of 12.

However, it is predicting it will be very difficult for the ten Scottish Conservative MPs to support the Repeal Bill without strong guarantees on devolution.

Ruth Davidson, the powerful Tory Scottish leader, has already flexed her muscles by warning the Prime Minister she will not march her MPs down the hard Brexit road.

There is also anger over the expected vast use of Henry VIII powers, so-called because they date back to a 1539 law allowing the Tudor monarch to govern by proclamation.

Sir Keir added: “The Bill proposes sweeping new powers for ministers that are fundamentally undemocratic, unaccountable and unacceptable.

“It fails to guarantee crucial rights will be enforced; it omits the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and it does nothing to ensure that British standards and rights keep pace with our EU partners.

“Labour are putting the Prime Minister on notice that unless the Bill is significantly improved in all these areas, Labour will vote it down in the House of Commons.”

The Opposition usually gives the Government opportunity to change a Bill between its second and third reading, which would have postponed a Commons flashpoint until next year.

But Labour is arguing ministers have plenty of time to make those changes before second reading in October – and is demanding they do so.

The tough approach is markedly different from earlier this year, when Jeremy Corbyn split his party by ordering it to vote for the Article 50 withdrawal notice.

The Liberal Democrats, who fought the general election on a pledge to stage a second referendum on Brexit, also said they would make the passage of the Bill “hell” for the Government.

Brexit Secretary David Davis is arguing the Bill, to repeal the 1972 European Communities Act, will ensure the UK “exits the EU with maximum certainty, continuity and control”.

“That is what the British people voted for and it is exactly what we will do - ensure that the decisions that affect our lives are taken here in the UK,” he said.

“By working together, in the national interest, we can ensure we have a fully functioning legal system on the day we leave the European Union.

“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.”

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