Ministers deny ‘climbdown’ over amendments set to curb ‘Henry VIII’ powers

PUBLISHED: 08:51 10 January 2018 | UPDATED: 10:22 10 January 2018

MPs in the House of Commons. Photograph: PA Wire/PA Images

MPs in the House of Commons. Photograph: PA Wire/PA Images

PA Wire/PA Images

Ministers have claimed they are listening as they table a number of EU bill amendments to curb Henry VIII powers, but Labour says “nothing has changed”.

The changes to the text of the EU Withdrawal Bill will impose limits on ministers’ powers to use so-called “Henry VIII” powers to amend EU rules and regulations when they are transferred onto the UK statute book.

MPs had voiced fears that ministers could abuse this power because the Bill provided examples of the kinds of deficiency in EU law which could be “corrected” in this way, but not a precise definition.

Ministers hope the new amendment will allay concerns by providing an “exhaustive list” of situations in which this power can be used but Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer has said the “piecemeal changes are woefully inadequate meaning once again nothing has changed.”.

An extension of three months after the date of Brexit will be granted for people wishing to launch court cases over alleged breaches of the general principles of EU law.

And a further proposal states that devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will have to consult with the UK Government, rather than seeking its consent, before using “correcting powers” to amend EU rules as they are transferred to domestic law.

Brexit minister Steve Baker did not view the amendments as a climbdown in the face of opposition from their critics, but as a response to constructive suggestions brought up during the eight-day committee stage of the Bill’s journey through the Commons.

“This is a landmark piece of legislation which is paving the way for our smooth departure from the EU,” said Mr Baker.

“That’s why our consistent approach to the Bill has been to listen and work with MPs who’ve made constructive suggestions to improve it.

“In bringing forward these amendments today, we’re showing the seriousness with which we take Parliament’s views.

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said: “This is a deeply flawed and damaging piece of legislation.”

“There is nothing to address the fundamental concerns that MPs across Parliament have about watering down workers’ and environmental rights, the extreme scope of Henry VIII powers and the disregard of the devolution settlement.

“The Bill in its current form would also block any sensible transitional deal with the European Union, and it contradicts the policy laid out in the Prime Minister’s Florence Speech.

“Theresa May must rethink her approach or face legitimate opposition from Labour and some of her own MPs.”

The Bill survived its committee stage with only one Government defeat, and will return to the Commons for its final report stage and third reading on January 16 and 17 before moving on to the House of Lords, where it is expected to face tough scrutiny.

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