John Penrose has put down two amendments on the EU Withdrawal Bill in a bid to give MPs more say over Brexit
Theresa May managed to get her debut Brexit law over its first hurdle this week – but one Tory MP wants to see major tweaks before he’ll offer further support.
John Penrose, the Conservative MP for Weston-super-Mare, has written an open letter to the Prime Minister outlining what needs to change before the EU Withdrawal Bill faces its next vote in October.
The Bill – which will end the supremacy of EU law in Britain, while also copy-and-pasting every EU law onto the UK’s statute books before Brexit – passed its Second Reading on Monday night, with a majority of 36 votes.
But just moments after the vote, MPs queued up to put forward amendments which will be considered at the committee stage – an eight-day series of debates.
Mr Penrose was one of the Tory backbenchers to lead the charge.
He is calling for limits to the so-called “Henry VIII powers” – the nickname for legal instruments which allow ministers to make changes to laws without needing Parliament’s approval.
Civil servants predict the Henry VIII powers, known formally as statutory instruments, will need to be used as many as 1,000 times in the two-years after Brexit, to ensure EU laws continue to work after the UK’s exit.
But Labour and other critics said the extra use of these powers amounted to a “power grab” by the Prime Minister in order to bypass MPs.
Mr Penrose, who supported the Bill at the Second Reading, says two protective measures need to be established before the law can go any further:
1. Combine a panel of experts from the both the Commons and the Lords to determine which ministerial changes, using the Henry VIII powers, should be debated by all of Parliament.
2. Make sure there are tighter restrictions and “limit the wriggle room” that ministers have regarding their changes, so they can’t use the extra powers as an excuse to alter EU laws they don’t like.
The North Somerset resort’s MP said those two proposed changes would allow “Henry VIII to stay in his grave”.
“If we make these two changes, we will strike a delicate but vital constitutional balance. Brexit will happen on time, but Henry VIII will stay firmly in his grave,” said Mr Penrose, founder of the all-party group Best Brexit, writing in the Guardian.
“Let’s not disturb his slumbers; those days are gone.”
The former minister said that, as it stands, the current draft of the law, which was originally called the Great Repeal Bill, gives too much power to ministers and makes Parliament weaker.
“The current draft of the Repeal Bill gives lots of power to ministers so we can deliver Brexit – which is essential – but it cuts Parliament’s role right down,” he said.
“A tiny percentage of the legal changes during the UK’s withdrawal from the EU won’t be trivial or detailed at all – they will be really important and will need thorough debate in parliament.
“And some of those temporary ministerial powers are quite a bit bigger and broader than they need to be.
“If Brexit is supposed to take back control of our laws, it’s pretty hard to argue that the small number of substantive changes should simply be waved through Parliament without thorough debate.”
He said his two proposed alternations would allow the Withdrawal Bill to keep to its “original, impressively simple aims”.
Mr Penrose, who campaigned to remain in the EU at referendum, is seen as one of the key Tory figures to pacify if the Bill is to survive.
He has a powerful ally in Dominic Grieve, the former attorney general to David Cameron, who has jointly signed Mr Penrose’s amendments.
Bristol’s four Labour MPs all voted against the bill on its Second Reading earlier this week, while all six Tory MPs in South Gloucestershire and North Somerset supported the Government.
North Somerset voted to leave the EU in last year’s referendum by 52.17 per cent to 47.83 per cent, making the area slightly more pro-leave than the national split of 51.9 per cent to 48.1 per cent.