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NEWS: Workers’ rights ‘amendable’ warn MPs at Brexit bill vote

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A parliamentary bill intended to enable EU-made laws to function after Brexit was branded ‘a recipe for disaster and an attack on workers’ rights’ by MPs at its second reading.


Mark Hendrick, Labour MP for Preston, told the House of Commons: “We will see a diminution of the rules, regulations and protections that the EU has brought to workers and consumers in this country. At the same time, business and trade will be hard hit. This is a recipe for disaster and an attack on workers’ rights.”

“[The rights] do not survive with their enhanced status; they survive only in delegated form,” explained Sir Keir Starmer. “From the date of this bill, they are amendable by delegated legislation.”

The MPs were speaking at the second reading of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill ahead of its midnight vote on 11 September.

Their concern, which echoed many other similar ones in the Westminster chamber over the long hours of the night, centred on so-called ‘Henry VIII powers’. This is not an invented term, but the actual name parliament gives to clauses that can be added to a bill ‘to enable the government to repeal or amend it after it has become an Act of Parliament’.

Photograph: iStock / erika

But many said it was not right, in the case of Brexit, that ministers are given powers to alter primary laws – including those enshrining health and safety protections, unpaid parental leave, time off for family emergencies and equal treatment rights – without full parliamentary scrutiny.

Brexit secretary, David Davis attempted to reassure that: “Ministers cannot use [the powers] simply to replace European Union laws that they do not like”. For example, they cannot be used to create serious criminal offences, impose new taxes, or amend the 1998 Human Rights Act, he said.

The bill ended up passing by 326 votes to 290, but MPs tabled 157 amendments, covering 59 pages for the next, third reading. Amendments include a proposed ‘sift and scrutiny system’ for delegated legislation in general.

The EU Withdrawal Bill repeals the 1972 European Communities Act, which took Britain into the EU. It will convert all EU law into UK law to prevent a ‘black hole’ in the statute book. Last year Theresa May coined it as a ‘Great Repeal Bill’, saying it was an “important step” for Brexit: “the UK will be an independent sovereign nation, it will be making its own laws,” she said.

Remainer MPs at the recent debate were unconvinced. Green party leader, Caroline Lucas said the UK would be left with over 1,000 pieces of environmental ‘zombie legislation’ due to the repeal process.

“Cutting and pasting laws from the EU’s statute book into the UK’s is simply not enough, because laws are only as effective as the mechanisms that implement and enforce them in practice.

“In the absence of mechanisms to replace the monitoring and enforcement roles of the European Commission and the European Court of Justice, we will effectively be left with zombie legislation – it may be on the statute book, but it will not be enforceable,” she warned.

The House next sits to debate the bill at a date to be announced.

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