Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Sunset for Henry VIII

One aspect of the EU Withdrawal bill which has not been given as much publicity as it deserves is that among safeguards to prevent abuse of the powers it gives the government is that the bill has a sunset clause and these powers will expire two years after Britain leaves the EU.

The government has tried to provide assurance that these delegated powers will not be excessive or inappropriate with a number of measures:
  • The bill specifies delegated powers may not be used to impose taxes, create a criminal offence, or repeal the Human Rights Act 1998
  • Most of the delegated legislation will be subject to the "affirmative procedure" which makes it easier for MPs who are unhappy with a proposal to challenge it - although some, including the power to modify exit fees, will not be.
  • The "sunset clause" means powers delegated in the bill expire two years after the UK leaves the European Union - on the current schedule that means they expire in March 2021.
It the bill did not include these provision I would be very unhappy about it - so much so that were I an MP I do not think I could support such a bill without them.
However, these restrictions, particularly the first and third, drastically curtail the scope for abuse of the so-called "Henry the Eighth" powers in the bill.
As Matthew Parris, who like me voted Remain and who unlike me still hopes to eventually persuade the electorate to cancel Brexit argued in The Times on Saturday, you cannot realistically hope to implement the vast legislative change required to undo 40 years of EU membership without something like this bill.
And frankly, the government's going to be too busy in the four-year period when it has these powers before the "sunset clause" comes into effect, using them for the legitimate purpose of making Brexit work for which they are needed, to have time to slip much else through with them.

Nevertheless I would like to hear a public debate about whether the proposed two-year sunset clause is the right period of time - is it long enough to get everything through, is it too long - and I hope and suspect there will indeed be such a debate on whether the safeguards on this bill are the right ones.

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