We don’t have the luxury of lamenting Article 50 – the fight is on for UK democracy

We don’t have the luxury of lamenting Article 50 – the fight is on for UK democracy

Date: 28 March 2017

Responding to the news that Theresa May had triggered Article 50, Nick Dearden the director of Global Justice Now said:

“We don’t have the luxury of sitting around and lamenting the fact that Theresa May has triggered Article 50, as the fight is now on to prevent the government from granting themselves an unprecedented set of powers to pick and choose which laws suit them and which don’t. Using ‘Henry VIII powers’ could mean ministers making significant changes to important legislation without parliamentary approval – something which many countries would deem unconstitutional.

“No one is denying that the legal process of coming out of the EU is going to be tricky, but we need to make sure that the government doesn’t use the deep divisions created by Brexit to begin sweeping away important safe guards around employment rights, consumer standards and the environment. Parliament needs to wake up and take its role seriously.”

On Monday Global Justice Now and Another Europe is Possible released a legal briefing  on Monday called The Great Repeal Bill – Addressing Unaccountable Power which laid out the threat that the bill poses to UK democracy.

The briefing argues that:

  • The opacity of the process and the powers proposed in the legislation risk side-lining Parliament as a decision-making body. In its place the government will be empowered to take unscrutinised and unaccountable decisions behind closed doors, with implications that will last for generations
  • The Bill, as currently proposed suffers from four key accountability gaps. These gaps maximise the discretionary powers of officials and minimise the potential for democratic scrutiny. These gaps would enable the government to “pick and mix” the EU norms that survive and are scrapped in the GRB. This, in effect, represents a power to legislate on a massive scale without the need to consult Parliament.
  • Even if the powers in the GRB are as limited and accountable as possible, the objectives of the Bill cannot be achieved unless it grants the government exceptional legislative power. Such a range of powers has the potential to exceed those of any peacetime administration in the last century.
  • Even with best case scenarios, the Bill cannot avoid creating the space for a gradual, low level, migration of decision-making power away from elected representatives and toward ministers and officials unless a sunset clause curtails those powers after a certain point.

In September 2016 Global Justice Now laid out what it saw as being the Red Lines for the Brexit negotiations in order to avert the worst of what many people feared might happen as a result of the UK leaving the EU.