Retaining Enhanced Protection

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 1:16 pm on 17th January 2018.

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Photo of Matthew Pennycook Matthew Pennycook Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union) 1:16 pm, 17th January 2018

That is absolutely true. The Government would be able to do that by using subordinate legislation in other Acts of Parliament. That applies not just to workers’ rights, but to other areas of law such as the environment and consumer rights. That category of law will lose its underpinnings following our departure from the EU.

Wrenched away from the enhanced protection enjoyed as a result of our EU membership, retained EU law—and we should bear in mind that that category of law might be with us for decades—will in many cases enjoy the lowest possible legislative status, and consequently the wide range of rights and protections that flow from it will be more vulnerable than they were before. The Opposition have repeatedly emphasised that Brexit must not lead to any watering down or weakening of EU-derived rights, particularly rights and standards in areas such as employment, equality, health and safety, consumers and the environment. That is why we tabled new clause 58 in Committee. Setting out the reasons why the Government were opposed to new clause 58, the Solicitor General argued that it would

“fetter powers across the statute book that Parliament has already delegated.”

Furthermore:

“Relying only on powers set out in this Bill to amend retained EU law would be insufficient”.—[Official Report, 15 November 2017;
Vol. 631, c. 418.]

In keeping with the constructive approach that we have taken towards the Bill throughout this process, we have engaged seriously with the Solicitor General’s argument, and new clause 1 is the result. Like new clause 58, it seeks to give retained EU law a level of enhanced protection, thus avoiding a situation in which laws falling within the new category might enjoy the lowest possible legislative status. It also accepts the defence put forward by the Solicitor General, and provides a mechanism whereby a Minister may use regulations provided for in other Acts of Parliament to amend, repeal or modify retained EU law, but only in cases in which it is necessary to maintain or enhance rights and protections, and only after consultation. In short, it concedes that there are many instances in which the use of subordinate legislation contained in other Acts of Parliament might be necessary, but seeks to reconcile its use with a presumption of enhanced protection.

Since the referendum, Ministers have repeatedly stated that the Government do not wish to see any rights and protections diminished as a result of our departure from the EU. That is also what the public expect, but it requires a level of protection that the Bill as it stands does not provide. We hope that the Government will engage seriously with the new clause and accept it, but we intend to press it to a vote if they do not.