Brexit Bill condemned as a government ‘power-grab’

Conservatives join opposition in calling for radical changes to legislation to leave EU

Conservative MP Anna Soubry: said it was wrong to suggest that critics like her were trying to thwart the will of the people, insisting that she accepted that Britain is leaving the EU. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA Wire

Conservative MP Anna Soubry: said it was wrong to suggest that critics like her were trying to thwart the will of the people, insisting that she accepted that Britain is leaving the EU. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA Wire

 

A number of Conservative MPs have joined the opposition in sharp criticism of legislation to facilitate Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. At the start of a two-day debate on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, Brexit secretary David Davis said the Bill was essential to allow Britain to leave the EU in an orderly manner.

Much of the criticism of the Bill focused on provisions to allow ministers to use “Henry VIII powers” to change legislation without significant consultation with Parliament. Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer said the Bill would reduce MPs to spectators as power pours into the hands of ministers and the executive.

“This is an unprecedented power-grab – ‘rule by decree’ is not a mis-description – and an affront to Parliament and to accountability,” he said. “Labour voted for the article 50 legislation, because we accept the referendum result. As a result, the UK is leaving the EU. That we are leaving is settled. How we leave is not. This Bill invites us to surrender all power and influence over that question to the government and to ministers. That would betray everything that we are sent here to do.”

Substantially improved

Former attorney general Dominic Grieve was one of a number of Conservatives to criticise the legislation, saying that unless it was substantially improved, he would vote against it when it returns to the Commons in October. Another Conservative, Anna Soubry, said it was wrong to suggest that critics like her were trying to thwart the will of the people, insisting that she accepted that Britain is leaving the EU.

“I would say to the millions who voted Leave – you should not just question the motives of those who tell you that people like me want to thwart your decision, but look at the other things they promised you before the 23rd of June, 2016,” she said.

“They told you that you would get an extra £350 million for the NHS, and you will not. They told you that you would take back control, but if this Bill is not amended, you can forget that, because the people will not be taking back control in this place, but giving it to ministers . . . finally, they told you it would all be so easy, and, as you now know, it is not just challenging but a blooming nightmare.”

Earlier, Mr Davis told MPs that remaining in the single market during a transition period by joining the European Free Trade Association (Efta) would be the worst of all options.

“The simple truth is membership of Efta would keep us within the acquis, and it would keep us within requirements for free movement, albeit with some limitations, but none of those have worked so far. So, in many ways, it’s the worst of all outcomes. We did consider it, I gave it some considerable thought, maybe as an interim measure. But it seemed to me to be more complicated, more difficult and less beneficial,” he said.