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Potential for procedural concessions as EU 'repeal bill' passes first Commons vote

The main piece of legislation which will facilitate the UK's exit from the EU has passed its first parliamentary test.12 Sep 2017

MPs in the House of Commons backed the second reading of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill by 326 votes to 290. The bill will now proceed to committee stage for line-by-line scrutiny.

Brexit minister Steve Baker said that the government would "look with the utmost seriousness" at the potential amendments to the bill that have been proposed by MPs. Over 150 amendments have been proposed, many of which relate to what is being seen as the "unprecedented" power the bill grants government to 'correct' the statute book though the use of secondary legislation according to the BBC.

Public policy expert and parliamentary agent Richard Bull of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that two days of debate over the "principle" of the bill "provides a foretaste of future battles when the details are considered in committee next month".

"The focus of criticism was on the relatively light touch parliamentary scrutiny which it is proposed to give to much of the delegated legislation which withdrawal renders necessary in order to ensure a properly functioning statute book on the day the UK leaves the EU," he said.

"Ministers expressed a willingness to consider making procedural concessions to avoid defeat at the hands of a number of Conservative rebels, who signalled that they will join forces with opposition MPs to neuter what shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer called a 'great power grab' by the executive. Long-standing Conservative 'Eurosceptic' MP Sir William Cash, by contrast, argued that the arrangements in the Bill simply mirror the provisions under the 1972 European Communities Act for bringing into effect EU Treaty obligations – and that these do not provide for any parliamentary oversight," he said.

"The lines are being drawn for an almighty row in committee, with the government struggling to command a majority," he said.

The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, or 'Repeal Bill' as it has been dubbed by the government, provides for the repeal of the 1972 European Communities Act, which gives recognition to the superiority of EU law in the UK. It also transfers any legislation applicable in the UK through EU law at the point of exit directly onto the UK statute book.

The bill would also grant ministers extensive powers to 'correct' the statute book through the use of regulations, known as 'Henry VIII powers'. These regulations would need to be "approved by a resolution" of both the House of Commons and House of Lords under the bill as currently drafted. The government has estimated that between 800 and 1,000 statutory instruments will be needed to make all the necessary post-Brexit amendments to UK laws.