Jacob Rees-Mogg clashes with Richard Graham over Brexit
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Legislation that gives ministers the power to tear up any remaining EU laws on the UK statute book in the wake of Brexit has passed its latest Commons hurdle. MPs debated the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill during its second reading this afternoon. The Bill passed by 280 votes to 225.
The Bill will make it easier for the Government to amend, repeal and replace the 2,400 pieces of EU law retained after Brexit.
It introduces a sunset date of December 31, 2023, for remaining Brussels laws accumulated during Britain’s decades in the bloc.
Opening the debate, business minister Dean Russell said the Bill is the “culmination of the Government’s work to untangle the UK from nearly 50 years of EU membership”.
He added: “Through this Bill we will create a more agile and innovative regulatory environment that would not have been possible should we had been a member of the EU still. This will benefit people and businesses across the UK.”
Mr Rees-Mogg, who quit as Business Secretary this afternoon ahead of new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak appointing his Cabinet, accused MPs opposed to a bonfire of retained EU laws of “fighting the Brexit battle over again”.
Mr Rees-Mogg said the Bill would be “removing the supremacy of EU law”.
He added: “The issue of supremacy is of constitutional importance and I’d say anybody who opposes the removal of the supremacy of EU law is fighting the Brexit battle over again.
“It’s about saying ‘we didn’t really leave after all, we’d like to pretend we’re still there and isn’t it nice to allow this alien law to continue to tell us what we ought to do’.”
Tory MP Richard Graham, intervening, said: “For some of us the issue is not really about the constitutional argument about which law should be sovereign – we may well happily accept that – but the point is more about the practical issue of how do you convert literally hundreds of laws in the department of environment, food and so on into British law within the timescale imagined.
“Does he understand the severe doubts that many people have about the practicality of what is on offer?”
Mr Rees-Mogg replied: “I’m afraid (Mr Graham) has never liked the decision to leave the European Union and everything he says must be taken in that context.”
He later said: “Those who oppose this Bill seem to think that British politics and the British electorate count for nothing.
“They stand up and say we will have no employment law protections, practically that we will be sending children up chimneys… Do they think the British voter was born yesterday?”
Shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds was heckled by Conservative MPs when he said of the Bill: “It’s not about Brexit. Brexit has happened, it’s a fact. For most people there’s no appetite to revisit those arguments.
“But whilst many people have strong views on how it has been done and how the Government hasn’t delivered on the promises made, I understand that, the task for this House is to get on and make it work.
“And therefore it’s important to recognise that this Bill before us today is not about whether people think Brexit was a positive or a negative thing, what this Bill is about is whether we wish to give this Government the power to sweep away key areas of law of great importance to all our constituents with no scrutiny, no say and no certainty over their replacements.”
Meanwhile, Labour MP Stella Creasy said the Bill “asks us to play the worst game of snog, marry, avoid”.
She said: “We literally have no idea what rules are being abolished by this piece of legislation, because the Government doesn’t know, it hasn’t found them all.
“Call me an old-fashioned democrat, but I quite like to know what I was voting to abolish, and be able to tell my constituents before we actually were asked to do so.
“It’s also not clear how this would operate in those devolved legislatures and of course that matters. It matters about laws being tenable if things are going to cross those borders, let alone our colleagues in Northern Ireland facing multiple legislative processes. All that red tape that we were told leaving the European Union we could get rid of.
“Above all, it asks us to play the worst game of frankly snog, marry, avoid for any pieces of Government legislation I have ever seen. In terms of deciding whether something is kept, amended or simply abolished.”
Questions have been raised about the feasibility of combing through hundreds of pieces of legislation in under a year and a half while the Civil Service faces cutbacks, while the Scottish and Welsh governments have expressed concerns about the impact it will have.
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