Some say the Great Repeal Bill will be a milestone on Britain’s journey to being a modern democracy. Some say not. One thing for sure is that the Great Repeal Bill will be the most influential single act of regulation in UK history.
The European Communities Act (ECA) 1972 is a crucial legislation as it makes European Union law automatically binding in the UK. In the cases of any clashes with British law, the European Union law takes precedence. With Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, the Great Repeal Bill will transfer, copy or amend all existing European Union legislations into domestic UK law. Simultaneously, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) will end its jurisdiction power in the UK.
The fundamental problem arises: when we go deeper into the discussion of Brexit, it seems more evident that there is no plan at all. Simply transposing all EU law into UK legislation will not be enough.
Theresa May published the Great Repeal Bill on July 13, 2017. David Davis, who is the Brexit Secretary, introduced the document and said: “this bill means that we will be able to exit the European Union with maximum certainty, continuity and control”.
However, ironically, the Great Repeal Bill grants the ministers with the powers to bypass the Parliament, the so-called Henry VIII powers which should not be acceptable in a democratic society. Parliamentary sovereignty is a fundamental principle in UK constitution. Parliament must have a say in the progress of the Brexit negotiations. It is argued that the government cannot be given the wide powers to alter the legislation without the scrutiny from Parliament.
Workers’ rights would be considered as the most crucial aspect which everyone concerns about the Great Repeal Bill. The government still retains the final right to amend or remove basic employment laws, for example, equal treatment for workers disregarding gender or ethnicity, excessive working hours, and redundancy protections.
Theresa May confirmed all EU citizens who have lived here for five years could apply for a “settled status”. This includes equal rights on healthcare, education and pensions. But here is the problem.
What about those EU nationals who have lived in the UK less than five years, but are currently working in the UK now? Does that mean they need to go back to their home countries and look for new jobs? What about the life they already settle here in the UK and already considered the UK as their homes?
It is necessary for the government to reassure the EU nationals which they would not be replaced if, in the future, they are required to obtain a visa to work in the UK. They need to be given the confidence by the government which they would be still entitled to the same rights as the UK citizens. The implications of the rights for EU nationals further extend to equal pay, full holiday pay, anti-discrimination against sex, race, and disability, as well as agency workers protections. The proposals for the Great Repeal Bill did fall short of the promise made by Theresa May. No specific guidelines are being set out to adequately protect and maintain all workers’ rights that came from the EU.
Workers’ rights are not the only crucial aspect. The pharmaceutical industry is also at risk with Britain’s withdrawing from the European Union. With the toughening of immigration control, border checks for goods importing into the UK might create delays. Consequently, the supply of life-saving medicines could be severely disrupted. For the pharmaceutical products which have a short expiration date, the cost might be significantly increased as well. The negotiation of a new trade agreement between the UK and the EU would take several years beyond 2019. The two-year period is a tight period for Britain to reach a new trade agreement and smoothly exit from the EU.
Therefore, even if the Great Repeal Bill converts all EU law into UK law, there would be still a legal black hole the day Britain withdrawing from the European Union. People voted in the referendum was in the hope of making the UK better, but they did not vote to be worse off. Assessing the potential problems facing right now, it seems that the Great Repeal Bill cannot actually guarantee “a maximum certainty, continuity and control within Britain”. This will not be the desirable outcome as suggested by David Davis.
The question to be asked is: can the Great Repeal Bill really ensure a smooth transition as well as a thoroughly functioning legal system on the day Britain leaves the European Union. The harsh truth is no. According to the report issued by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the latest recorded Consumer Prices Index (CPI) 12-month rate was 2.6% in June 2017. This figure is still above the Bank of England’s 2% target. With Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, for example, the export of livestock will be prohibited. Consequently, the inflation rate is bound to keep going up. The living standards for UK citizens will be squeezed.
After all, the Great Repeal Bill is only the first Brexit-related bills. The remaining seven bills yet to be set out to put Brexit into practice are customs, trade, immigration, fisheries, agriculture, nuclear safeguards, and international sanctions. At this stage, it is still unclear how the negotiations will unfold.