Six years ago, Matthew Parris suggested in The Spectator that David Cameron’s first act of parliament should be the Blanket Repeal of Legislation (Failure of New Labour, 1997-2010) Bill. That would have been a repeal bill worthy of the name. Theresa May’s proposed ‘Great Repeal Bill’ is not. Brexit we know about: that decision was taken on 23 June. But beyond Brexit, the Bill won’t repeal anything. On the contrary, it will ‘convert existing EU law into domestic law’ so it is about continuity, rather than annulment. It should really be called the Great EU Regulation Continuity Bill. Nothing wrong in that; it’s necessary legislation. But why spin it as radical change?
The main question is whether the legislation will get passed the Lords – with my old boss Patience (now Baroness) Wheatcroft promising to stall it in hope of something coming along to derail Brexit. As James Forsyth argues, this ‘Great Repeal’ bill is a rather spivvy name for the Brexit bill. This is, in itself, worrying: you do need to wonder about a government that puts the word ‘Great’ into its Bills. Even Douglas Carswell, when he proposed this Bill in 2012, didn’t use the g-word.
There is a problem with excessive EU regulation, and much of it does need repealed. But the Great Repeal Act will repeal none of it. John Longworth, former CBI chief, puts it well in the Sunday Times today:-
“A huge amount of the benefits of Brexit is not to do with a trade deal, it’s to do with how we run our economy at home. We can get a massive step change if we do the right things. A 10pc cut in regulation would lead to an increase of 0.7pc in GDP.”
The big question is how much of this red tape will be repealed after Brexit. We don’t know and, I suspect, won’t know for a while.
But name aside, the Bill itself is welcome, and a sign that things are moving faster than some has feared. Theresa May evidently means business, and agrees that there’s no point waiting to do the necessary legislative housework. It does suggest that No10 is serious about all this, and set on a clean and timely Brexit. It’s not a repealing bill, but it will make repeal possible later. Which was, of course, the whole point of Brexit.