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Britain starts overhauling legal set-up for Brexit

By AFP   |   13 July 2017   |   11:08 am  

British Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (Brexit Minister) David Davis leaves 10 Downing street after a cabinet meeting in central London on July 11, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Ben STANSALL

The British government on Thursday begins the mammoth task of overhauling its legal set-up in time for Brexit, as a top official warned the government was woefully unprepared for withdrawal from the European Union.

The "Repeal Bill" will pave the way for existing European Union law to be converted into British law so laws remain the same when Britain leaves the bloc.

The thousands of items of legislation can then be amended or repealed by British lawmakers.


Brexit Minister David Davis said the bill will ensure the United Kingdom will have a "fully functioning legal system" on leaving the EU.

"This bill means that we will be able to exit the European Union with maximum certainty, continuity and control," he said in a statement.

But overhauling more than four decades of legislation through scrapping the 1972 European Communities Act is no small task, with opposition parties planning amendments to the bill.

"We have very serious issues with the government's approach, and unless the government addresses those issues, we will not be supporting the bill," the Labour main opposition's Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer told The Guardian newspaper.

'This will be hell'
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: "This will be hell," referring to the parliamentary debate ahead of Britain kickstarting Brexit proceedings.

Opposition parties are particularly incensed by the government's proposal to use special executive authority -- dubbed "Henry VIII powers" -- to push through laws without full parliamentary scrutiny.

Backed up by a deal with Northern Ireland's 10 Democratic Unionist lawmakers, Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative government has a working majority of just 13 in the 650-member House of Commons.

The government also published position papers on other major issues, after being urged by EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier to do so ahead of more exit talks next week.

"We need to know on which points we agree and on which points we disagree, so that we can negotiate in earnest," Barnier said in Brussels.

"We cannot remain idle as the clock is ticking," he added.

Britain duly outlined its stance on nuclear materials, with the kingdom leaving the European Atomic Energy Community, but wanting to continue working closely with Euratom to help ensure a smooth exit.

"The UK and the Euratom community have a strong mutual interest in ensuring close co-operation," the position paper said.

There was also a paper on judicial matters -- a significant hurdle as London and Brussels continue to disagree on whether the European Court of Justice will continue to have jurisdiction.

'Chocolate orange'
In Brussels, Barnier was to meet Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, which the party claimed "signals Labour's growing importance to the Brexit process in the wake of the general election" last month, in which the Conservatives lost their majority.

Barnier was also due to meet nationalist Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones of Labour for private talks -- though he was clear negotiations could only take place with the British government.

"Our priority is protecting Scotland's vital interests and building consensus against an extreme Brexit outside the single market," said a spokesman for Sturgeon.

Meanwhile the head of Britain's public spending watchdog blasted failures in government leadership over Brexit and raised fears about "vague" exit plans.


Amyas Morse said ministers were not delivering a unified front on challenges of quitting the EU and warned the response could fall apart like a "chocolate orange" at the first tap.

The National Audit Office chief said that failure to prepare for customs, it would be a "horror show" if officials were forced to process imports and exports manually.

A government spokesman said: "The whole government is alive to the task ahead and working together to deliver on the will of the British people."



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