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Peers face down UK Government as demand pressed for safeguards on scrapping EU laws

20 Jun 2023 4 minute read
the Houses of Parliament from the London Eye, as an inquiry to determine how well the UK Government understands and considers devolution has been launched by a Westminster committee – Image: Anthony Devlin

Peers have continued their dust-up with the UK Government in pressing a demand for safeguards over post-Brexit plans to ditch EU laws.

The House of Lords maintained their stand-off by again backing by 232 votes to 187, majority 45, a measure to ensure ministerial powers to revoke, replace or update retained rules from Brussels do not undermine current environmental protections.

The unelected chamber also defied the Government to insist by 241 votes to 181, majority 60, on increased parliamentary oversight of the retained EU legislation to be scrapped or replaced.

Critically, this would also allow for changes to the proposed regulations, which is not usually permitted to so-called secondary legislation.

Throughout the passage of the Retained EU Law (Reform and Revocation) Bill through the Lords, concerns have been raised over the power it handed to ministers.

The latest defeats means a continuation of the tussle known as parliamentary ping-pong where the draft legislation passes between the two Houses.

Government minister Lord Callanan told peers the elected Commons had been clear in rejecting the amendments for a second time.

He said: “I and many other Government ministers have committed to uphold our environmental protection.

“We will not shirk away from the commitments we have already made during the passage of this Bill.”


But in pressing his call for a “non-regression” environment provision, Oxford University scientist Lord Krebs said: “I am not making a partisan point I am simply trying to ensure that our environmental protections are not weakened.

“My amendment would simply put on the face of the Bill, what the Government says it wishes to do in any case.

“It’s not adding any burden or obstacles.”

Challenging those opposed to the measure, Lord Krebs added: “Would you be prepared to stand up in front of a television camera and explain to David Attenborough why you think it is not necessary for this Government to protect our current standards of maintaining environmental protections?”

Independent crossbencher Lord Hope of Craighead, a former deputy president of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, also stressed the need for stronger parliamentary oversight.

He said: “The House might well consider it rather strange given the nature and extent of what is involved that neither House of Parliament can play any kind of active role in the scrutiny of these regulations.

“It really is a take it or leave it system dictated to Parliament by the executive.”

On his amendment, he said: “This is a relatively light touch procedure which gives Parliament some measure of oversight of what is being proposed. I offer it as a compromise.”

Pushing his luck

But in response, Lord Callanan said: “I think he is pushing his luck if I might say so respectfully.

“The Government cannot accept a procedure which is as unwieldy as he has proposed. I think he knows this is not about additional parliamentary scrutiny, this is actually about stopping the Government form acting in this area.”

Leading lawyer Lord Pannick, who played a key role in successful Brexit-related legal challenges, said: “There is a very strong case that the House of Commons is dealing with this matter as a matter of politics rather than principle.

“It is precisely for that reason that we should send the matter back. That we should be emphasising that this is a matter of constitutional principle. It’s not a matter of whether you support Brexit or don’t support Brexit. It’s not a matter of politics.”

Tory former minister Lord Hamilton of Epsom said: “At the end of the day the House of Commons is the elected House. It has the right as the elected House to be wrong and I am afraid we have to accept that.

“I can’t understand why the other place is giving away the powers that it is, in the way that it seems to be happy to let the executive take over everything but that is what they have decided to do. They are the elected House as we should live with it.”

Labour frontbencher Baroness Chapman of Darlington said: “We remain deeply concerned at the potential for protection of our environment to be watered down.”

The Bill will now be sent back again to the Commons, for MPs to consider the latest changes made by peers

The legislation has already been watered down by the Government after it abandoned a planned “sunset” clause to scrap all laws carried over from the trade bloc by the end of 2023.

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