An alliance of over 70 charities, NGOs and other civil society organisations have called on the government to ensure the Repeal Bill does not result in a “power grab” by ministers.
The alliance, which is being coordinated by Unlock Democracy, is speaking out ahead of the second reading of The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, commonly known as the Repeal Bill, which takes place next on Thursday 7 September.
The organisations are determined to ensure that this power grab, and resulting side-lining of the devolved nations in the Brexit process, does not take place.
It is funded by charitable foundations including Barrow Cadbury Trust, Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales, and Paul Hamlyn Foundation.
Members include Amnesty International, Greenpeace, Fawcett Society, Friends of the Earth, Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, and Unison.
The Fix the Bill alliance, which says it takes no position on the outcome of the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU, says it will be engaging with MPs from all parties over the coming months “to ensure that the best possible outcome results from the Repeal Bill”.
'Rules exist for a reason'
The government proposes to confer significant powers to ministers to transpose EU onto the UK statute book using secondary legislation in the Repeal Bill. The alliance said that this legislation, commonly in the form of Statutory Instruments, is “little understood, poorly scrutinised by Parliament and consequently not democratically accountable”.
It said: “Although these delegated powers are meant to make technical changes to legislation, in recent years ministers have been used to make highly controversial and sweeping policy changes, including: changing regulations to allow fracking; abolishing maintenance grants for students; and adding the recent and controversial so-called ‘Rape Clause’ to tax credits”.
Samuel Lowe, campaign lead (Brexit and trade policy) at Friends of the Earth, one of the organisations involved in the alliance, said: “Around 80 per cent of our environmental protections come from the EU, and we need them brought over into UK law so that they work just like they do now.
“This isn’t ‘red tape’, they are rules that exist for a reason: to protect our beaches, air and wildlife, and nobody wants to see these threatened so we can’t let anything fall between the gaps.”
Kevin Hanratty, director of the Human Rights Consortium, a Northern Ireland based human rights coalition who is also a member of the alliance, said: “The process of exiting the EU represents the single biggest constitutional change in the UK for generations. EU derived rights and systems currently protect people across the UK and have provided an important platform for the Northern Ireland peace process.
“As the UK leaves the EU it is essential that those protections are not diminished in any way. Key to this will be to ensure proper scrutiny and accountability for the passage of the EU Withdrawal Bill, including respect for the role and current powers of the devolved regions. This alliance will be an important vehicle in helping bring together the voice of civil society across the UK throughout the passage of that legislation.”
The Fix the Bill alliance is calling for open and accountable law making, with clear limits and safeguards on the powers given to ministers in the bill and robust parliamentary scrutiny at all levels with appropriate levels of transparency and debate both before and during the conversion process. It also wants a “high standards UK”, ensuring that as EU law is transposed into domestic law, rights and standards for all sectors are maintained.
More infomation on the alliance can be found on the Fix the Bill website.