09:57, March 26 405 0 theguardian.com

2017-03-26 09:57:03
Labour to oppose 'Henry VIII powers' being used to rewrite EU laws

Labour will oppose plans in the “great repeal bill” to give ministers sweeping powers to rewrite laws with minimal interference from parliament, Jeremy Corbyn said on Sunday.

The Labour leader was responding to reports that the government will publish a white paper setting out its plans for the “great repeal bill” on Thursday, just a day after Theresa May starts the formal process of taking Britain out of the European Union by triggering article 50.

The white paper will set out how the government intends to repeal the European Communities Act 1972 and transplant laws that have force because of the UK’s membership of the EU into domestic law. It is expected that this will involve extensive use of so-called Henry VIII powers – laws giving ministers the power to change primary legislation (government bills) using secondary legislation (orders that go through parliament with little or no scrutiny).

Speaking on ITV’s Peston on Sunday, Corbyn said Labour would oppose giving ministers extensive new Henry VIII powers when the Commons voted on the “great repeal bill”.

“We’re not going to sit there and hand over powers to this government to override parliament, override democracy and just setting down a series of diktats on what’s going to happen in the future,” he said. “We’d be failing in our duty as democratically elected parliamentarians if we did that.”

Corbyn said the fact that the constitution still allowed these sorts of powers to survive was “a wondrous thing” but that now “they’ve got to stop”.

He explained: “I don’t think the record of Henry VIII on promoting democracy inclusion and participation was a very good one. He was all about essentially dictatorial powers to bypass what was then a very limited parliamentary power.

“We need total accountability, at every stage of this whole Brexit negotiation,” said the Labour leader.

Ministers argue that they will need these powers because leaving the EU will require a vast body of current law to be rewritten and that many of the changes that will be made to primary legislation using Henry VIII powers will just be technical.

Speaking on the BBC’s Sunday Politics, David Lidington, the leader of the Commons, cited as an example the need to change a bill to take out a reference to an EU body serving as a regulator and replace it with a reference to a UK regulator.

He said the Henry VIII powers granted in the “great repeal bill” would be “limited and defined”. And he said parliament itself would vote on what powers ministers should receive.

“The scope, the definition of those powers and when they can be used, in what circumstances, is something that parliament will have to approve in voting through the bill itself,” Lidington said.

The row erupted as the Sunday Times claimed that the Brexit department had drawn up a plan for EU nationals who are living in the UK to continue to receive the benefits they currently get after Brexit, including in cases where child benefit is paid for children living abroad.

The paper said the Department for Exiting the European Union was arguing for the proposal, which has yet to be agreed by the cabinet, on the grounds that cutting EU nationals’ rights to benefits would undermine the government’s attempt to protect the benefits of Britons living in other EU countries.

But it would break a Conservative manifesto promise to stop EU migrants getting tax credits and child benefit unless they had been in the country for four years, and to stop all child benefit payments for children living abroad, regardless of how long a claimant had worked in the UK.

Asked about the Sunday Times story, a government spokesman said: “This is speculation and we do not comment on leaks from cabinet. We have said we want to secure the rights of EU nationals already in the UK, and UK nationals in the EU. But no decisions of the kind speculated about here have been taken.”

On Monday Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, will give a speech setting out the conditions Labour would impose before deciding whether or not to support the government’s final Brexit deal. One condition is that any new trade deal must deliver “exact same benefits” as the UK enjoys from being inside the single market and customs union.

The Liberal Democrats’ leader, Tim Farron, said this demand was “beyond parody”, given that Labour peers recently voted against an amendment to the article 50 bill in the House of Lords that would have required the government to keep the UK in the single market.

Farron said: “Just weeks ago, Labour MPs voted against membership of the single market and to give Theresa May a blank cheque for a hard Brexit.

“It’s not just that the horse has bolted, Labour opened the stable door.”