Brexit: Volume of bills could lead to substantial use of low-scrutiny Henry VIII powers

Up to 15 new bills in addition to the Great Repeal Bill could be required to deliver Brexit, research by a UK think tank has found.

The authors of Legislating Brexit, a paper published today by the Institute for Government, warn that Brexit will place a huge burden on both Parliament and government departments.

The paper states that on average each Queen’s Speech only announces twenty new bills, so 15 new Brexit bills before the UK exits will leave little space for non-Brexit related legislation.

Departments will need “ruthlessly” to prioritise other legislation and find non-legislative approaches to achieve policy aims where possible, particularly in the context of the government’s narrow Commons majority.

The paper also cautions that the extent of legislative change required will inevitably lead to the government using different routes to make Brexit-related changes – such as using secondary legislation to amend primary legation (so-called “Henry VIII powers”) – that are subject to less parliamentary scrutiny.

Because of this, the paper argues, the government should resist the temptation to introduce non-essential changes in the repeal bill. Instead, the priority should be to copy across the acquis (the body of European Union law), which can be amended after Brexit. The paper also makes several recommendations for how the government should manage Brexit-related bills, including publishing white papers with full impact assessments, and scheduling the legislative programme to allow the timely passage of the secondary legislation needed before exit.

The authors make several recommendations for parliamentarians. Both the Commons and the Lords must get involved at an early stage, pressing the government to publish white papers and introduce bills in draft wherever possible. They must also time their evidence sessions and reports carefully to maximise impact on new areas of policy.