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Repeal Bill: Here's how British lawmakers may blow Brexit off course

  • Britain's parliament will vote Monday evening on whether the ruling right-wing Conservative Party should have the power to transfer laws from Brussels to Britain in order to prepare for Brexit.
  • The government has proposed plans to make changes to U.K. law post-Brexit using so-called 'Henry VIII powers'.
Demonstrators holding EU and Union flags gather in front of the Houses of Parliament in Parliament Square following an anti Brexit, pro-European Union march in London on March 25, 2017, ahead of the British government's planned triggering of Article 50.
DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS | AFP | Getty Images
Demonstrators holding EU and Union flags gather in front of the Houses of Parliament in Parliament Square following an anti Brexit, pro-European Union march in London on March 25, 2017, ahead of the British government's planned triggering of Article 50.

British lawmakers are poised to have a big say over Brexit on Monday, as MPs divide on the European (Withdrawal) Bill for the first time.

Britain's Parliament will vote Monday evening on whether the ruling right-wing Conservative Party should have the power to transfer laws from Brussels to Britain in order to prepare for Brexit.

Prime Minister Theresa May described the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, often referred to as the Great Repeal Bill, as an "essential step" in the process of leaving the bloc. However, opposition parties appeared united in blocking the bill's progress, arguing it is reflective of a "power grab" from the government.

Here's everything you need to know ahead of the vote:

What is the EU (Withdrawal) Bill?

The EU (Withdrawal) Bill will repeal the 1972 European Comminutes Act – which brought the U.K. into the EU – and end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

All EU existing laws will be applied to domestic U.K. law in order to ensure a smooth Brexit immediately after the country leaves the bloc on March 29, 2019.

The U.K. Parliament could then "amend, repeal, and improve" its own laws as and when it deems necessary.

Ministers argue this process would protect the U.K. from a "cliff-edge of uncertainty". However, critics of the bill claim government officials would then possess the power to modify legislation without the appropriate scrutiny from Parliament.

Why is the bill seen as controversial?

British Prime Minister Theresa May arrives at the EU Council headquarters ahead of a European Council meeting on June 22, 2017 in Brussels, Belgium.
Leon Neal | Getty Images
British Prime Minister Theresa May arrives at the EU Council headquarters ahead of a European Council meeting on June 22, 2017 in Brussels, Belgium.

The repeal bill is potentially "one of the largest legislative projects ever undertaken in the U.K." according to a report by the House of Commons library. This is because replacing EU laws with domestic legislation is by no means a straightforward process.

And, in any case, not all of this can be achieved via the Repeal Bill alone. For example, swathes of British laws would then refer to EU institutions only.

Therefore, May's government plans to create powers to "correct the statute book where necessary."

What does this have to do with Henry VIII?

The government has proposed plans to make changes to U.K. law post-Brexit using so-called 'Henry VIII powers'.

In 1539, the 'Statute of Proclamations' gave the then King power to legislate by proclamation. Opposition parties have vehemently protested such plans, with the left-wing Labour party insisting this would hand the government "sweeping powers" to make rash and poorly judged legislative decisions.

Government officials have sought to play down concerns from critics, arguing that decisions would be time limited and not used in order to make policy changes.

The government has projected that around 1,000 measures, called statutory instruments, would be required to make sure the bill functions correctly.

What do opposition parties think of the repeal bill?

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks to supporters on May 22, 2017 in Goole, England.
Matt Cardy | Getty Images
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks to supporters on May 22, 2017 in Goole, England.

Several Conservative lawmakers have expressed concerns about the plans to rewrite legislation without due parliamentary procedure yet few are expected to rebel on Monday night.

Meantime, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has ordered his MP's to vote against the bill. Liberal Democrat lawmakers and Scotland National Party members of parliament are also expected to vote against the bill.

While an upset does not appear likely, May's fragile working majority of just 13 has dramatically increased the power of individual backbenchers.

What happens next?

The bill will have to pass through both Houses of Parliament for it to be formally approved.

The government is aiming for it to be passed before Britain leaves the bloc in March 2019, but only to become law thereafter.