Brexit Bill passed but rights left out

Blue EU flag with stars

The EU Withdrawal Bill -previously known as the Great Repeal Bill – has been passed at Westminster.

The Bill’s purpose is to bring EU law into UK law but much of the detail was very controversial and raised significant rights issues.

In response to considerable campaigning, the House of Lords had amended the Bill to keep the Charter of Fundamental Rights, a right to action in court, and safeguards around the lessening of equality and human rights.  The Lords had also restricted Government powers to change legislation without parliamentary scrutiny.

However, when the Bill returned to the Commons, MPs voted against most of these amendments.

In the end, the Bill does give a bit of enhanced scrutiny to changes to equality, environmental, consumer and employment rights.  Ministers have to publish draft instruments to change these at least 28 days before and a ‘scrutiny statement’ must be made – this means that organisations have more chance of being aware of any changes coming up but that close attention will still be required!

There are some environmental safeguards included and there is a right of action in domestic law if there is a failure to comply with any of the general principles of EU law but with a limit of up to three years after exit day.

  • The Bill and devolution

The Bill also raised significant issues about the relationship between the UK and devolved governments, and the extent to which the UK Government could legislative in devolved areas without Scottish Parliament consent.  The Human Rights Consortium Scotland and SCVO wrote to MPs to highlight the human rights implications of the devolution aspects of the Bill.

The final Bill sets out that, for a period of two years, the UK Government can pass regulations that restrict the Scottish Parliament’s ability to legislate in areas of retained EU law. These regulations would then remain in force for up to five years. The UK Government has repeatedly emphasised their intention is to proceed through mutual consent and has published a draft intergovernmental agreement to this end.

The Welsh Government agreed to these proposals but the Scottish Government did not.  The Scotland Continuity Bill –you can read detail on this here – is being challenged by the UK Government in the Supreme Court on 24th and 25th July. Whatever the outcome of this court case, it is unknown what will happen to this Bill.



Image credit: Matti Mattila, Flickr

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