Brexit will descend into chaos if British lawmakers reject a bill designed to lay the legislative framework for the country’s EU exit, the government said Monday as it battled to pass a law that opponents have labeled a “power grab.”
The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill aims to convert around 12,000 EU laws and regulations into U.K. domestic laws on the day Britain leaves the bloc in March 2019.
A vote is due late Monday or early Tuesday on the legislation, a key plank in the government’s plans to disentangle Britain from the EU after more than four decades of membership.
Brexit Secretary David Davis said “a vote against this bill is a vote for a chaotic exit from the European Union.”
“The British people did not vote for confusion and neither should Parliament,” he said.
The government says the bill is needed to avoid a legislative black hole on the day Britain leaves the EU. It will incorporate all EU laws into U.K. statutes so they can then be kept, amended or scrapped by Britain’s Parliament. The government says that will fulfil the promise of anti-EU campaigners during last year’s referendum to “take back control” of the country from Brussels to London.
Critics say the bill gives the government worrying powers, because it allows ministers to fix “deficiencies” in EU law without the parliamentary scrutiny usually needed to make or amend legislation. Such powers are often referred to as “Henry VIII powers” after the 16th-century king’s bid to legislate by proclamation.
Opponents worry that the Conservative government could use such powers to water down environmental standards, employment regulations or human rights protections.
Labour lawmaker Wayne David told the House of Commons the bill was “poorly thought out, complex and undemocratic … a power grab by this government.”
The main opposition Labor Party and smaller Liberal Democrats both say they will vote against the EU withdrawal bill. But it will pass unless pro-EU lawmakers from the governing Conservatives rebel.
Many of them say they will vote for the bill now and try to amend it at the next stage, when it receives line-by-line scrutiny from lawmakers.
The government needs to pass the bill to keep its Brexit plans on track. It has been almost 15 months since Britain voted to leave the 28-nation bloc, and nearly six months since Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May triggered the two-year countdown to exit.
Since then, negotiations between Britain and the EU have made little progress on key issues including the status of the Ireland-Northern Ireland border and the amount Britain must pay to settle its financial commitments to the bloc.
May’s authority took a battering when she called a snap June election in a bid to increase her majority in Parliament and strengthen her negotiating hand. The move backfired when voters stripped the Conservatives of their majority, leaving May reliant on support from a small Northern Ireland party to govern.
Conservative lawmakers signaled that the government would likely agree to water down the Henry VIII powers.
“I think Parliament will be sensible to get them to write it to make sure there’s not the possibility of using powers that no government’s ever tried to take,” Ken Clarke, a pro-EU Conservative, told Sky News.
Edward Leigh, a Conservative who backs Brexit, said the government should “be generous … accept some of the amendments” proposed by opposition members.