Today, is the first day back in parliament after the summer holidays, and Labour has confirmed that it won’t vote for the Great Repeal Bill next Monday. 

As a Labour spokesperson said today, Labour respects the people’s democratic decision to leave the European Union, but as a democratic party cannot vote for “a bill that unamended would let government ministers grab powers from parliament to slash people’s rights at work and reduce protection for consumers and the environment.” The statement also clarified that “Nobody voted in last year’s referendum to give this Conservative government sweeping powers to change laws by the back door. The slogan of the leave campaign was about people taking back control and restoring powers to parliament. This power-grab bill would do the opposite. It would allow the government to seize control from the parliament that the British people have just elected.”

The government hasn’t made any changes to the bill yet, and, as it is, many parties have said that they won’t support it. At the same time, many ministers are afraid that by blocking the bill, people might think they are attempting to overturn the Brexit vote, which isn’t the case. 

But the transport secretary, Chris Grayling, criticised Labour’s actions as disappointing and said that blocking the bill would create a “legal vacuum,” when the UK finally leaves the bloc.

On Thursday, MPs will debate the legislation during its second reading in the House of Commons, and on Monday, next week, they will vote on the bill. The bill, after its second reading, will then reach the Committee stage and then the report stage, before it gets its third reading. The same five stages will be followed in the House of Lords, before amendments are considered and, finally, the Queen gives her Royal Assent. 

Repeal Bill

The EU (withdrawal) bill that was published on 13 July 2017, is considered by many politicians as controversial since it will enable the government to make decisions without parliamentary consent. The Great Repeal bill, which will transpose EU law into UK law after Brexit, involves the use of Henry VIII powers which will allow ministers to change primary legislation using secondary legislation without any parliamentary vote. Some have criticised the bill for its “copy and paste” function where EU legislation is immediately turned into EU law. 

Another problem with the bill is that it isn’t clear what kind of devolution powers will be given to the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish nations, while the issue of EU citizens isn’t dealt with in depth. Their “rights and protections” aren’t guaranteed while the EU charter of fundamental rights isn’t brought into domestic law.

In addition, Labour opposes the bill because it does not offer any assurances that the UK will remain in the single market, customs union and European Court of Justice during a transitional period.

It is not only Labour that opposes the bill, but also Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party which will table amendments to block the bill. However, with the DUP’s support, the Conservative party will pass the bill to its next stage, as long as no Conservative MPs rebel. Any possible rebellion by Tory MPs could be translated as support for Jeremy Corbyn.

The parties’ disagreements with the bill reflect their vision of life after Brexit, and not just a limited view of just what kind of Brexit deal the UK can strike, or who will offer the best macho Brexit to satisfy a small part of the population. Instead, as Stephen Gethins, SNP Brexit spokesman said: “This debate is about more than just one party or one part of the UK. It is up to parties and MPs from across these islands and the political spectrum to come together and work for a better deal and hold the government to account.”

Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer, who has written to his counterpart, Conservative Brexit Secretary David Davis to request changes to the Repeal bill, has described the government’s plans as “undemocratic” and “unacceptable.” In his letter, Starmer writes that his party’s concerns “are serious, reasonable and responsible. They are not designed to frustrate Brexit, but to ensure that the right approach is taken and that jobs, living standards and rights are protected.”

The Labour party, which last week cleared its position on Brexit and offered an alternative to the government’s hard Brexit vision, has said that it wants to keep Britain in the single market during a transition period after its withdrawal from the EU. It was inevitable then that it would decide to vote against what has been called as a “Tory power-grab” withdrawal bill.

Labour’s change in its position and today’s announcement of the party’s intention to block the bill, show that Theresa May will be facing a difficult time ahead, with increased tensions within her party and the fear of a possible Tory rebellion in the Commons next week.

At 4pm today, David Davis, the Brexit secretary, will give a statement to parliament to discuss the Brexit negotiations and the withdrawal bill.