Brexit’s Great Repeal Bill is a never-attempted ‘massive problem’: is Oxbridge prof stating the obvious to Lords’ committee?

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By Polly Botsford on

There was also a lot of talk about Henry VIII clauses and Acquis Communautaire


The House of Lords’ Constitutional Committee, which includes Article 50 hero Lord Pannick QC, heard from three Oxbridge law professors this week on the challenges faced in bringing in the Great Repeal Bill, aka the legislation which will realise Brexit.

Professors Paul Craig (Oxford), John Bell (Cambridge) and Alison Young (Oxford) appeared unanimous in their view that in terms of a legislative process, Brexit is “a massive problem”. Professor Craig — who spoke to Legal Cheek about the aftermath of the Brexit vote — told the committee that it was a question of scale: “size matters here…. no one has ever attempted this kind of manoeuvre before.”

From a legislative point of view, the bill has to grapple with how to translate Acquis Communautaire (which, as all EU law students know, means accumulated legislation, legal acts, and court decisions which constitute the body of European law) into UK law in the next two years, the committee heard.

Professor Craig speculated (though didn’t believe it likely) that it could be a short bill which would be a “window through which the entirety of Acquis Communautaire is brought into UK law with the detail to be worked out afterwards.”

Professor Paul Craig
Professor Paul Craig

There was also bemusement on what should be parliament’s response if the government proposes to use wide-ranging Henry VIII clauses (which gives it the power to amend, repeal or improve legislation without oversight or scrutiny from parliament) to convert EU law into UK law, which it is likely to have to do given “the massive problem” it faces in purely practical terms.

Meanwhile, over in the House of Commons in a Justice Select Committee meeting, top lawyers were giving evidence on a related issue: the impact of Brexit on the legal services industry.

This MP-based committee heard that without freedom of movement of workers and with the UK’s exit from the single market, the industry could be in tatters. “Nothing else of much importance is going to be salvaged,” was Andrew Langdon QC, chair of the Bar Council’s, dramatic prediction.

Alongside Langdon, three others bemoaned the fate of the legal services industry, which generated £25.7 billion for the UK economy in 2015 and contributed £3.6 billion in net export value to the balance of payments. These were Simon Gleeson, financial services guru and partner at Clifford Chance, Alison Hook, co-founder of Hook Tangaza, and Law Society top dog Robert Bourns.

The Lord Chancellor Liz Truss has, however, been keen to be seen to be active in defending the sector. In a City-based lunch recently she spoke of a “bold and bright future” for legal services and stated:

We are already working to make sure we get the best possible deal for the profession.

The jury is out on this one: though legal services was highlighted as an example of a “highly competitive” sector by Prime Minister Theresa May in the government’s new industrial strategy green paper, it is not one of the five sectors which will receive special government support. (The lucky winners of that are: life sciences, electric cars, industrial digitalisation, the creative and nuclear industries.)

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