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Britain sets out 'Great Repeal Bill' plan to transform thousands of EU laws

UK ministers have given the first indication of how EU laws are to be converted into domestic legislation. Opposition critics accuse the government of aiming to reshape the laws without proper parliamentary scrutiny.

The UK government has published its plans for a Great Repeal Bill to transform more than 12,000 EU laws in force in Britain into UK statute so that "the same rules will apply after exit day" as before.

Brexit minister David Davis fended off accusations that the government was using the two-year process to reshape the EU laws which have been passed in the previous 44 years without the proper parliamentary scrutiny.

"The bill will convert EU law into United Kingdom law, allowing businesses to continue operating knowing the rules have not changed overnight, and providing fairness to individuals, whose rights and obligations will not be subject to sudden change," Davis told parliament on Thursday. 

König Henry VIII. von England (1509-1547) und von Irland (1541-1547) (dpa)

King Henry VIII split with Rome and was declared by act of parliament Supreme Head of the Church of England in 1534

The government plans to award ministers the ability, sometimes known as Henry VIII powers, after the Tudor monarch from the sixteenth century, to change laws without consulting Parliament. May’s office says these powers will be time-limited.

Davies denied there was any power grab being planned: "We're not considering some form of governmental executive orders," he told parliament on Thursday. He said the government would ensure that British laws were made not in Brussels but "in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast."

The opposition Labour Party said it would "challenge" the government at every stage of the Brexit process

Labour Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said the proposed bill "gives sweeping powers to the executive" and lacks "rigorous safeguards" on their abuse.

The Great Repeal Bill will revoke the European Communities Act of 1972 and confirm EU statutes into British law. Future governments will then be able to "amend, repeal and improve any law it chooses," subject to international treaty obligations, May has said. 

There have been concerns that this could give a future government the power to draw back on EU protections for working people such as paid holidays, health and safety at work and maternity leave. "Let me be absolutely clear: existing workers’ legal rights will continue to be guaranteed in law and they will be guaranteed as long as I am prime minister," May said last October. The ruling Conservative Party is due to call the next General Election for May 2020.

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Security cooperation threat to EU?

EU agency membership

Membership of EU agencies would be a matter for May's negotiation, the prime ministers aides said on Thursday. Davis said the European Court of Justice (ECJ) would have no future role in interpreting British laws. 

Davis said the UK wanted to continue to work with the EU on issues such as security. May's six-page letter triggering the negotiations delivered in Brussels on Wednesday made 11 references to security, stating that without a good deal, "our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened."

The opposition Liberal Democrats claimed May was "gambling with Britain's security"

May said Wednesday that Britain would probably have to leave Europol, the EU police agency, after Brexit but wanted to "maintain the degree of cooperation on these matters that we have currently."

Europol-Chef Rob Wainwright EMSC (picture-alliance/ANP/J. Lampen)

Rob Wainwright from Wales is the current Director of Europol

jm/kl (Reuters, AP)

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