Theresa May climbs down over Henry VIII powers

PUBLISHED: 14:48 11 December 2017 | UPDATED: 17:11 11 December 2017

Henry VIII: not a fan of democratic oversight

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In a major climbdown on its flagship Brexit bill, the government has given in to rebels over greater oversight of ministers' powers.

An amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill tabled by the cross-party Commons Procedure Committee will stop ministers simply signing changes into law through so-called Henry VIII powers.

Instead a new "sifting committee" of backbench MPs will be established to decide whether statutory instruments proposed by ministers require a vote in the Commons.

The bill, currently going through Parliament, will transfer all relevant EU law on to the UK statute book at the point of Brexit in order to ensure that there are no gaps left in the legal framework as a result of withdrawal.

It had been proposed to allow ministers to make thousands of minor alterations to the EU lawbook - such as replacing the name of European regulators with their UK equivalent - by the use of statutory instruments, which do not automatically require debate and votes in Parliament.

But this sparked widespread opposition from MPs concerned that it could give ministers an opportunity to sneak through changes to the law without scrutiny which could impact on people's lives.

Theresa May's official spokesman told a regular Westminster media briefing that the Government will accept the Procedure Committee's amendment, which was due to come up for debate tomorrow and vote on Wednesday.

A report setting out the proposals last month was backed unanimously by Conservative, Labour and SNP members of the committee.

Mrs May's spokesman said: "We have studied the Procedure Committee's report in detail and listened to the representations and we are announcing today that we will be accepting this amendment.

"We recognise the role of Parliament in scrutinising the bill and we've said throughout that we are taking a pragmatic approach to what we've always said is a vital piece of legislation.

"Where MPs and peers can improve the bill we will work with them."

Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman Tom Brake said: "This is a welcome but minor concession on an issue on which the Government knew it could not carry the House.

"Liberal Democrats will continue to fight for full parliamentary oversight of the Brexit process, at the end of which it should be the people, not politicians, who have the final say. That's the only way to ensure this isn't a stitch-up between Whitehall and Brussels."

Labour MP Chris Leslie, a leading supporter of the Open Britain campaign against Hard Brexit, said: "As well as urgently offering further limitations on the use of Henry VIII powers, ministers should also accept Amendment 7, which would give MPs a genuinely meaningful vote on any Brexit deal.

"If the terms of any withdrawal look like they could cause serious damage to our parliamentary sovereignty, our elected representatives and their constituents have every right to keep an open mind about whether Brexit is really the best path for the future of our country."

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