On Thursday, the Conservative government published its Great Repeal Bill to give effect to Prime Minister Theresa May’s triggering of Article 50, beginning Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU).
There is now a two-year cutoff before Brexit fully takes effect, on March 29, 2019. The bill, to be brought forward next year, states its objective is to “provide maximum certainty as we leave the EU.”
But the claim made by the Leave campaign in last June’s referendum, that the UK could disentangle itself from the EU with minimum disruption, was always a lie. Over four decades, the UK has become closely integrated into the EU, in line with the globalisation of capitalist production and trade. Every aspect of British life—from customs, law, working conditions, education, health, transport and the environment—is interwoven with the European and global economy.
That is why the 37-page bill is so short on detail. No country in the modern period has attempted such a course. No one, least of all the ruling elite which is now largely behind Brexit, has any grasp of its consequences. Even the most confirmed advocates of withdrawal—led by right-wing, neo-liberals—are anxious to conceal the real implications of their agenda.
The flimsy nature of the bill notwithstanding, it does indicate the vast scale of what is underway, which is described as the largest legislative venture undertaken in British history.
At its centre is the overturning of the European Communities Act (1972) that gave effect to European law in the UK, as the prerequisite for its joining the European Economic Community—the forerunner of the EU.
Subsequently, the UK adopted a number of treaties including the Single European Act (1987), which provided for the completion of the single market and free movement of goods, capital and persons; the Maastricht Treaty (1993), that incorporated a common foreign and security policy and cooperation in justice and home affairs; the Treaty of Amsterdam (1999) and the Lisbon Treaty (2009) which brought all 28 member states in to a single European Union.
The bill acknowledges that there is no precise figure for the number of EU directives and legislation incorporated into UK law through these treaties. It tentatively identifies at least 12,000 EU regulations currently in force and 7,900 statutory instruments, which have implemented them. However, this does not include all the acts of legislation made by the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. According to the House of Commons Library, more than 14 percent of the 1,302 UK Acts implemented between 1980 and 2009 “incorporated a degree of EU influence.”