Alex Sobel: Brexit bill is just a cynical power grab

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we have just voted in Parliament on the EU Withdrawal Bill. There has been a lot said about this huge piece of legislation, also known as the ‘Great Repeal Bill’.

The headline is hard to argue with - let’s make sure that all of the EU laws and protections that come with EU membership are transferred into British law, so that we avoid legislative chaos and a massive black hole in rights and protections on the day that Britain leaves the European Union.

But for the sake of our democracy, I voted against the bill.

It should have been a technical piece of legislation, but this government is trying to use it for a cynical power grab.

I worry that Theresa May and her government will use the Brexit process as an excuse to enact everything the right wing of the Tory Party have always wanted – to rid the UK of all of our hard won consumer, environmental and workers rights and protections.

This bill would give the Government power to pass up to 1,000 pieces of legislation – and even to set Britain’s exit payment from the EU - without Parliament’s scrutiny or approval.

These so-called ‘Henry VIII powers’ are hardly in keeping with the promise of expanded and enhanced parliamentary sovereignty made in 2016. This cynical power grab by the Tory Party would be enough to make anyone who believes in parliamentary democracy oppose this bill – but, sadly, there are even more fundamental flaws.

The bill, in its current form, paves the way for a slash and burn of environmental, health and safety standards in the UK.

If we lose these standards we risk companies dumping inferior goods, which cannot be sold within the EU, on UK consumers. If the risks to consumers weren’t enough, there’s also an enormous risk to the UK economy – we can’t have access to the single market without maintaining these standards, which allow goods to move between the UK and Europe.

The government White Paper released last year proposed to replace the EU’s oversight of many very important areas with some vaguely-defined new UK bodies.

For instance, offshore oil and gas activities would be overseen by an unspecified UK body – or not at all. As an MP who is very concerned about the future of our environment I could not vote a bill into law that might allow big oil and gas companies free rein in British waters.

There is nothing in the EU Withdrawal Bill that guarantees the hard-won workers’ rights, such as annual leave,the working time directive and equal pay that protect people in my constituency of Leeds North West and up and down the country.

Without clear institutions or mechanisms that can enforce these rights, they are not worth the paper that they are written on!

We in the Labour Party have long fought for rights in the workplace - we cannot stand idly by whilst they are undercut by one swing of Theresa May’s legislative axe!

It’s important to realise that, within the terms of the bill, many of the laws that are transferred into British law on the day of withdrawal will be subject to ‘sunset clauses’ – they will expire at a future date. This does not safeguard our rights and protections - it just gives them a stay of execution.

For all these reasons and more I am proud that I, alongside my Labour colleagues, have voted against the government’s bill.

Alex Sobel is MP for Leeds North West

Castleton Mills in Armley, Leeds, which has undergone a transformation. 
Picture by Simon Hulme

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