The government today unveiled the first of eight bills which will withdraw the UK from the EU, with opposition parties promising to give Prime Minister Theresa May "hell" as she tries to steer it through Parliament.
The main function of the Repeal Bill, officially called the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, is to repeal the European Communities Act on the day the UK leaves the EU, which is achieved in a single line of the first clause.
It will also allow the mammoth task of bringing in around 12,000 EU regulations into UK law, giving ministers the power to change the law via so-called Henry VIII clauses. These rarely used, non-parliamentary powers take their name from the Statute of Proclamations 1539, which gave the king power to legislate by proclamation.
Opposition parties promised to fight to amend the bill when votes commence in the autumn. Labour has said it will oppose the bill unless six tests are met, including the retention of the Charter of Fundamental Rights which the bill does not transfer into UK law. Meanwhile, outgoing Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: “This debate is not just a quagmire for the government, it is also a political nightmare that could end Theresa May’s premiership."
The First Ministers of Scotland and Wales also criticised the bill, saying they would vote against it. In a joint statement, the Scottish National Party's Nicola Sturgeon and Labour's Carwyn Jones said: "It is a naked power grab, an attack on the founding principles of devolution and could destabilise our economies."
They added: "The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill does not return powers from the EU to the devolved administrations, as promised. It returns them solely to the UK Government and Parliament, and imposes new restrictions on the Scottish Parliament and National Assembly for Wales."
The devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales could vote down the bill, although that would not prevent it from passing in Westminster if there is a straightforward parliamentary majority. The government should be able to pass the bill with support from Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
David Davis, the secretary of state for exiting the EU, said the bill will allow "maximum certainty, continuity and control", describing it as "one of the most significant pieces of legislation that has ever passed through Parliament".
If the Act passes through Parliament unamended, ministers will be granted powers to correct aspects of the law, such as those referring to EU regulatory agencies, which are no longer applicable to Britain.
The scope of these correcting powers has been a major point of concern for critics of the government, with some MPs fearing they could be used to dismantle regulations without proper parliamentary scrutiny.
The bill itself would give broad powers to government ministers. It says: "Regulations under this section may make any provision that could be made by an Act of Parliament."
However, the Act attempts to prevent this situation by saying the powers must only be used in cases “arising from the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU”, rather than perceived problems with the regulations themselves.
The powers will not apply two years after the day of Brexit, in effect setting a time limit for EU regulations to be brought into UK law.
Another potential flashpoint in the bill is the continued applicability of European Court of Justice (ECJ) case law after Brexit until it is overruled by the UK Parliament. New case law that comes into effect after the date of Brexit (which is not made explicit in the bill) will not apply.
The government believes this will allow certainty for businesses and individuals, who will be able to continue to rely on the same EU law.
The Repeal Bill also reveals that the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights will no longer apply in the UK, although the government believes the change will not have a direct impact on people's lives, with most of the rights such as workers' rights covered in law elsewhere.