Britain has begun to take back control from Brussels as David Davis announced that the first EU law to be scrapped after Brexit will be a charter that helps criminals avoid deportation.
Revealing details of the forthcoming Great Repeal Bill, Mr Davis told MPs that the controversial EU Charter of Fundamental Rights will be dropped on the day Britain leaves Europe.
MPs cheered in the House of Commons as the Brexit Secretary told them Britain would be regaining the sovereignty it last enjoyed in 1972.
He said: “A strong, independent country needs control of its own laws. That process starts now.A day after Theresa May began the Brexit process by invoking Article 50, European leaders entrenched their positions on their refusal to discuss a trade deal until the UK has paid its “divorce bill”.
Francois Hollande, the French president, told Mrs May in a phone call that Britain must agree to meet its “obligations” first. Senior EU officials said it was “highly unlikely” that the other 27 member states would give ground on that contentious point.
Meanwhile Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister, came up with a new tactic to frustrate Brexit by threatening to veto the Great Repeal Bill in the Scottish Parliament.
Mr Davis published a 37-page white paper setting out the objectives of the Bill, the legislation that will convert EU laws into UK laws on the day Britain quits Europe in 2019.
Parliament will then be able to choose which laws to keep and which to revoke. Mr Davis said the Bill will “provide clarity and certainty for businesses, workers and consumers across the United Kingdom on the day we leave the EU”.
It will repeal the European Communities Act 1972 – which provides the legal underpinning of Britain’s EU membership – on the day Brexit happens in March 2019.
Mr Davis said that doing so “enables the return to this Parliament of the sovereignty we ceded in 1972 and ends the supremacy of EU law in this country”, which would ensure that “power sits closer to the people of the United Kingdom than ever before”.
While the Bill will provide for around 19,000 pieces of EU legislation to be brought onto Britain’s statute books, the Charter of Fundamental Rights will not be one of them.
Sir Bill Cash MP, chairman of the Commons European scrutiny committee, said Britain would immediately benefit when the charter was dropped because “it provides protection for people who have no right to be protected”.
He said: “There is a disproportionate number of those in prison convicted of crimes which warrant deportation who, by virtue of human rights legislation, including and in particular the consequences of the charter, are not able to be deported because of case law.”
The charter has also been used as the basis for a so-called “right to be forgotten”, with criminals using the courts to force Google to block searches about their past convictions.
Britain will still be a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, which is not part of EU law. Writing in today’s Daily Telegraph, John Longworth, former director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, urged the Government to cut a swathe through EU red tape by setting up a “Star Chamber” of MPs, economists and businessmen who are “not frightened to think the unthinkable”.
He says the process needs to start now, so that EU laws can be revoked on Brexit day plus one. In the Scottish Parliament, Ms Sturgeon threatened to block the Great Repeal Bill – and delay Brexit – by refusing to pass a Legislative Consent Motion – the device by which devolved powers give Westminster permission to make laws on devolved matters.
She claimed Westminster was planning a “power grab” by refusing to hand over all responsibilities currently exercised by the EU in devolved policy areas such as fisheries and agriculture.
Mrs May has insisted Scotland will have more devolved powers after Brexit, but Ms Sturgeon’s official spokesman said that unless unless every power in these areas was transferred, the SNP would refuse to pass a consent motion.
In Westminster, there was confusion over whether a consent motion from Holyrood would be required to pass the Bill.
Mr Davis was unable to say whether it was needed or not, but David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary, has previously said he thought it would be.
Adam Tomkins, the Scottish Conservative constitution spokesman, said: “The SNP is complaining about the return of substantial new powers which, under its plans, would remain in Brussels. If ever people needed to see their utter hypocrisy, this is it.”
It came as Gina Miller, the financier who forced Mrs May through the Supreme Court to get parliamentary approval before she triggered Article 50, said she would consider fresh legal action to clarify whether the Government could legally enact the Great Repeal Bill.
Mrs Miller said she wants to stop the Prime Minster using so-called “Henry VIII powers” to tweak existing EU laws before they are passed into UK law without Parliament being able to vote on the changes.
Downing Street has insisted the use of secondary legislation – which allows the Government to amend Acts once they have been passed – is purely an administrative matter.