The Prime Minister has announced a bill to repeal the European Communities Act 1972, the Act of Parliament formally inserting the founding treaties into the law of the UK. This “Great Repeal Bill” is, of course, a consequence of the European Union (EU) referendum on 23 June 2016 when the British people decided to leave the EU as a Member State. It will only come into effect once “Brexit” is completed.
As the Prime Minister also announced that she will trigger Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union in March 2017, the bill would become law in Spring 2019, after the prescribed two-year period of exit negotiations. Until then the entirety of EU law, it’s supremacy included, will remain in force throughout the UK; indeed, any violations would be unlawful.
The “Great Repeal Bill” requires a vote and majority in Parliament to become law. This will give those feeling strongly against “Brexit”, for example the 54 Scottish National Party MPs, an opportunity to make a stand, even when a majority made of Conservatives and some others will probably be found. The vote might well emphasise the division of the country – the referendum result was clear, but there are also over 16 million unhappy people.
The “Great Repeal Bill” is a necessary legal part of “Brexit”. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Prime Minister’s announcement does not tell us much about the intended type of deal to be negotiated with the EU to replace what the Bill will repeal after Spring 2019. Even after a “hard Brexit” most of EU law, including thousands of pages of UK Regulations transposing EU Directives into our law, will remain on our statute books. However, if and to what extent these Regulations can be repealed or even amended, will depend on the arrangements eventually made with the EU.
An EU-UK Treaty with full access to the Internal Market would leave most of the EU based laws exactly as they are, although the supremacy of EU law and its enforceability in our courts would be affected. A “hard Brexit” taking the UK out of the Internal Market would lay the foundations of a process during which hundreds of Regulations are gradually repealed over time, replaced or amended by the British legislators, growing less and less compliant with EU law.
Depending on the substance of these changes and on the sector they regulate, British producers and service providers would then have to abide by these new UK rules to do business here and additionally the potentially increasingly different EU rules to do business there, a costly proposition. It is these gradually evolving differences of law by which the “Great Repeal Bill” might threaten the business model of many companies and investors in the UK and, thus, our jobs and wealth.