The Great Repeal Bill: May's toughest fight yet

Rachel Cunliffe
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Pro-EU MPs are united to pressure Theresa May into backing down towards a softer Brexit model (Source: Getty)

The strange thing about the Great Repeal Bill, the vast copy-pasting assignment that will transpose EU legislation into UK law, is that it manages to infuriate Remainers and Leavers alike.

The hardest of hard Brexiteers worry that converting everything will create legacy issues and hinder the government from repealing the laws it wants to discard further down the road, and would much prefer to cherry-pick what they want to keep now and throw out the rest. Remainers, meanwhile, are using this as yet another obstacle to Brexit. Tim Farron, former leader of the Liberal Democrats, has threatened that getting the bill through Parliament “will be hell”. There are already efforts to unite Remainers from all parties in holding up the repeal or pressuring Theresa May into backing down towards a softer Brexit model.

Liam Fox, the International trade secretary, has warned that any attempts to obstruct the bill would backfire and result in an even harder Brexit. But even if his outburst is heeded (and it won’t be), there’s a further question about where the additional powers reclaimed from Brussels will go. The SNP is already clamoring for more devolution, and Carwyn Jones, the first minister of Wales, has dismissed the current bill as “a crude power-grab from London”.

And that’s before we even get onto Northern Ireland, whose devolved assembly is so divided it still does not have a leader.

The most interesting aspect of the ordeal is the role that Labour are to play. Jeremy Corbyn is a lifelong eurosceptic whose failure to support pro-EU members of his party has come under fire, most notably when he sacked front-benchers for voting in favour of remaining in the Single Market. But on the Great Repeal Bill, Labour looks set to ready the fiercest opposition it can muster. Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer is demanding amendments to safeguard EU worker protections and incorporate the European Charter of Fundamental Rights into British law. (The Brexiteers chomping at the bit to purge the whole EU apparatus from the UK will not let that go lightly.)

If Labour can maintain a unified front until Autumn and attract just a handful of rebellious Tories, May will have the fight of her life on her hands. That's assuming she's still Prime Minister at the time.

Read more: Deadline day: Firms must present hard Brexit plans to Bank of England today

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