What is the EU (Withdrawal) Bill?
The bill is supposed to be the legislation required to transform the legislation derived from the UK’s membership of the EU into standalone domestic legislation.
What are “Henry VIII” powers?
The parliamentary website gives this definition of Henry VIII powers:
“The Government sometimes adds this provision to a Bill to enable the Government to repeal or amend it after it has become an Act of Parliament. The provision enables primary legislation to be amended or repealed by subordinate legislation with or without further parliamentary scrutiny.
Such provisions are known as Henry VIII clauses, so named from the Statute of Proclamations 1539 which gave King Henry VIII power to legislate by proclamation.”
Why are the Henry VIII powers in the EU (Withdrawal) Bill so extraordinary?
The Henry VIII powers sought in the EU (Withdrawal) Bill enable the government to amend not only that bill, but any and all legislation including other Acts of Parliament.
This is clearly not the same as what the Government “sometimes” does as explained above.
For instance, the government could use the powers in this bill to extend the period between General Elections or amend the authority, and restrictions placed on that authority, which Parliament has given the government in relation to the UK leaving the EU.
Why is deleting the Charter of Fundamental Rights necessary for the UK to leave the EU?
It is not necessary to delete the Charter of Fundamental Rights in order to transpose EU-derived legislation into standalone UK law.
The only conceivable reason for deleting the Charter is to remove the protections it gives. The government can then, without parliamentary supervision and control, reduce or remove legislative and regulatory provisions which protect ordinary citizens.
As Harriet Harman said (she was talking about women’s rights, her point is valid across the piece), “You should never be complacent about rights which have been really hard-won. There are always people who want to turn the clock back”.
Why is the combination of “Henry VIII” powers and deletion of the Charter so dangerous and sinister?
Deleting the Charter of Fundamental Rights from the UK’s Statute Book removes basic protections for ordinary citizens. This includes essential elements needed to protect some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
Once that happens, those seeking to tear down hard-won legislation and regulation protecting us from discrimination on the basis of race, colour, creed or gender can do so without parliamentary oversight and control, simply by using the Henry VIII powers contained in the bill.
They can even roll back the Bill of Rights of 1689, where (for example) regular parliaments, free elections, and freedom of speech in Parliament are enshrined, to suit the government’s own interest. In effect they can impose an elected (at least in the first instance) autocracy.
This is a power-grab of monumental proportions.
The government says it won’t abuse the powers it seeks to grab, so why is it trying to grab them? Given the government’s penchant for secrecy and sleight of hand, why should any of us rely on its assurances?
Furthermore, future governments could retain these powers and would not be bound by any assurances given by individuals in the present government as to how they are to be used.
The EU (Withdrawal) Bill must be based on three things: parliamentary sovereignty, proportionality of the legislation (i.e. what’s actually needed to achieve the supposed objective) and what is in the best interest of the UK and its people.
It’s clear that close scrutiny will be required to make sure that none of these are swept away or lost sight of.
Why is “The Three Knights Opinion” important in confirming Parliamentary Sovereignty?
The proposed amendment (number 7 put forward by Dominic Grieve and others) that is probably most widely discussed is that which requires that whatever the exit terms are, they enter into law by means of an Act of Parliament.
This gives Parliament the “meaningful vote” on exit terms agreed (or not agreed). It also ensures that the vote takes place before the exit, which must happen, whatever the nonsense that has recently been talked.
The “meaningful vote” is in line with the legal opinion embodied in “The Three Knights Opinion” we commissioned. At the time of the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) debates, all MPs were provided with a copy of that opinion and a briefing note on its importance. This obviously included Theresa May and David Davis.
But the bottom line is that Parliament’s sovereign authority over the acceptance or rejection of the exit terms continues to exist until such time as it is exercised. The exercise of it will be the definitive confirmation of the UK’s exit from the EU or of its decision to remain in the EU.
Although it would be much clearer if that authority were embodied in the EU (Withdrawal) Act, its exclusion does not invalidate Parliament’s authority.
If all of this seems to you to be grounds for concern, please contact your MP, write a letter or make an appointment at the “surgery” perhaps, to discuss things. Here are some suggestions for questions you might want to ask:
- Do you think it’s necessary to delete the Charter of Fundamental Rights? If so, why? If so, what will be done to protect ordinary people from abuse of their rights? If not, what will you do to defend the rights of ordinary people threatened by this and/or preserve the Charter?
- Do you think these wider-ranging-than-normal Henry VIII powers are necessary? If so, why? Do you see them as potentially dangerous? If not, why not? How can they be limited to what is proper and prevented from becoming an Executive “blank cheque” to ride rough-shod over any and all existing legislation for an indefinite time? If that is not done, will you refuse to support them?
- Is this momentous decision one that should be made by our elected sovereign Parliament or by an appointed executive?
Please don’t let yourself be told, “We’re strong and stable…”, “We’ve been very clear about this…”, “If there’s a problem, come and see me…” or similar platitudes.
Whatever the political colour, now is not the time to be fobbed off with such soundbites!
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Published by Grahame Pigney on behalf of The People’s Challenge Ltd.