MPs face “a very real threat” of losing their powers during the Brexit process, the Hansard Society has warned.
The society, which promotes parliamentary democracy, predicted that government ministers will attempt to exploit “Henry VIII powers”.
Named after the larger-than-life Tudor king, these powers date back to the days of monarchical dominance and allow the government to tinker with legislation while avoiding parliamentary scrutiny. (You can read more about Henry VIII clauses here).
The government’s planned Great Repeal Bill, which integrates EU law into UK law, is in effect one of these power grabs.
It is likely to contain a Henry VIII clause, which will allow the government to “adapt legislation” so it “functions effectively post Brexit”, in the words of the House of Commons library.
The Hansard Society already is alarmed by a creeping Tudorisation of Parliament. It found that in the 2015-16 parliamentary session, ministers gained 96 Henry VIII powers in order to amend or repeal primary legislation – laws generally made by Acts of Parliament.
Director Dr Ruth Fox said: “If the government is going to ‘repeal, amend and improve’ EU-related law through the Great Repeal Bill, Parliament needs to have procedures in place to scrutinise the proposals effectively.
“If not, there is a very real threat that the Brexit process will empower the government rather than Parliament.”
The Hansard Society isn’t alone in its concern.
The human rights group Liberty has warned that, as far as the Great Repeal Bill is concerned, “the use of Henry VIII powers create a real risk that EU-law rights protections will be eroded”.
The consumer group Which? commented: “The use of Henry VIII powers is largely incompatible with the principles of accountability, effective scrutiny and consumer input.”
As for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), it cautioned that over-reliance on delegated legislation would be “worryingly undemocratic, especially when dealing with the vast range of environmental protection measures”.
Really, though, the biggest protests should be coming from the Leave campaign. As the Hansard Society notes, a popular phrase was “Take Back Control”. It would be rather ironic if Brexit ended up robbing Parliament of its power.