30 March 2017
The government today published The Great Repeal Bill, giving itself sweeping powers to amend EU law without a parliamentary vote, and experts warn this could affect employment protections.
Brexit Minister David Davis said the government would have “time-limited” powers to amend the law through secondary legislation, which can be passed with little debate, for up to 1,000 EU-derived laws. Davis promised this power would be reserved for technical changes to the law, but Labour and the Liberal Democrats pointed out that without safeguards in the government’s White Paper on the subject, rights and protections could still be at risk.
Former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said more reassurance was needed over whether EU directives like the Working Time Directive would be kept in place, according to the Guardian.
Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer criticised the plans for giving the Tories too much unchecked power. The Guardian quoted him as saying that “…one might expect some pretty pretty rigorous safeguards to the use of these sweeping powers, but none are found in the white paper…[Davis will have to] face down those on his own side who will not be able to resist the temptation to water … rights and protections down before they’re even put into this bill”.
Speaking to the RT, Sam Fowles, an international law researcher from Queen Mary University, described the so-called Henry VIII powers as “worrying”.
“We don’t know which laws will ultimately be transferred into UK laws and which laws will be dropped along the way … And the worrying thing is that parliament won’t get a say in which laws – I’m talking about things like air quality measures, environmental measures, things like employment protections … are these going to make it into British law, or are they going to be dropped along the way with these Henry VIII powers?”
For EU citizens living in the UK and those hoping to work in the UK in the future, there was still no long-term certainty, although Davis provided reassurance that their right to remain is currently secure and will not change over night.
Speaking to the Guardian, Keir Starmer called for a Bill to be passed securing the residency of the three million EU workers in the UK, which he said “would get cross-party support, and could be passed very swiftly”.
So far, the government has refused to give absolute assurances to EU citizens resident in the UK, justifying their position by saying their priority lies in ensuring ex-pats living in Europe are offered security and they may not get this if EU Citizens are given rights too soon. Critics have attacked this position for using EU workers as bargaining chips.
The Institute of Employment Rights has hosted two conferences this month at which leading legal, academic and campaigning experts from across the UK have debated how we can protect the rights of both migrant and UK workers as the UK leaves the EU. You can now read the full report of our London conference Migration After Brexit: the challenge for labour standards, and see the tweets from our free Brexit and employment rights below.
If you missed these important conferences, there are still opportunities to get involved in the debate. Our experts will return for another Migration after Brexit event in Liverpool on 27 April, and we will soon release an audio recording of our Brexit and employment rights debate.