Readers, this is normally a gentle and well-meaning, indeed positively herbivorous, column; a column which, at the Editor’s behest, busies itself with the joys or no of Ross-on-Wye and South Herefordshire, and rarely ventures into the murky waters of National Politics.
But this week the Editor has specifically asked me to focus on the EU Withdrawal Bill, and its impact on our legislative process. Is it, as some have claimed, a hijacking of democracy, and a gross usurpation of the rights of Parliament? Or is this just a political hoo-ha over what is essentially business as usual?
The answer is neither. Brexit involves what is probably the single most complex set of legal changes in British history. Following the referendum, Parliament took a decision to proceed with Brexit earlier this year, and the Government is now seeking to make that happen. The question is whether there are adequate democratic safeguards in place.
The Bill, and various associated measures, are designed to bring a vast body of EU law into UK law in a very short period of time. It is agreed on all sides that this process will be one of “lift and shift”: in practice it will be impossible to give each law to be incorporated anything like the kind of parliamentary scrutiny that any new law would receive under normal circumstances.
The Government has thus proposed an approach which gives it, for a limited period, some discretionary powers to enact this law, but not to create new criminal offences or levy taxation. There is already a vigorous debate as to how these powers should best be scrutinised, and the Bill will undoubtedly be significantly amended on constitutional grounds when it gets to the House of Lords.
This is all as it should be; indeed it is our democracy in action.