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What is the EU Withdrawal Bill and does it really bring back power to Parliament?

The Great Repeal Bill has been replaced by the EU Withdrawal Bill. What does this mean for Brexit? 

In October 2016, when Theresa May had Brexiteers purring and Middle England curled up in her lap, her government unveiled the Great Repeal Bill. Despite the name, the bill was really a "tidying up exercise", designed to enshrine EU laws into British law before the real business of Brexit got started. 

But the Great Repeal Bill attracted its critics - and not just the woman who took the government to court, Gina Miller, who accused May of "acting like a power-crazed monarch". The Hansard Society raised concerns about the use of Henry VIII clauses, which allow the government to by-pass Parliament (more about that later). 

Then came the snap election. After the Conservatives lost their majority, a humiliated May replaced the Great Repeal Bill with the EU Withdrawal Bill. As my colleague Stephen wrote in July, there is very little difference beyond the name change

In the early hours of 12 September, MPs voted for the bill to go through to the second reading stage by 326 to 290, after Remain-backing Tory MPs fell in line with the government and a small number of Labour MPs rebelled against orders to oppose it. 

So what do you need to know about the Great Repeal Bill EU Withdawal Bill? (Apart from the whole big picture about leaving the EU of course). 

1. The Henry VIII powers are still there 

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 bill is in effect one of these power grabs, because it would allow the government to “adapt legislation” so it “functions effectively post Brexit”, in the words of the House of Commons library.

This is the main reason the Labour party has given for opposing the government's bill. In a statement, it said: “Labour fully respects the democratic decision to leave the European Union, voted to trigger Article 50 and backs a jobs-first Brexit with full tariff-free access to the European single market.

“But as democrats we cannot vote for a Bill that unamended would let government ministers grab powers from Parliament to slash people’s rights at work and reduce protection for consumers and the environment."

2. There are specific concerns around consumer protection and workers' rights

As the Labour statement suggests, the party might accept Brexit, but it's a very particular kind of Brexit. It is not alone. 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”.

While the government says it will protect workers' rights, the trade unions are particularly concerned about the future eroision of some hardwon gains, particularly those around holiday pay.

3. The opposition is against it

As well as Labour's opposition, the third biggest party, the Scottish National Party will oppose the EU Withdrawal Bill, as will the Lib Dems. But unless there are some surprise rebellions from the Tory party, May is still likely to be able to force it through. That's thanks to the Brexit-backing Democratic Unionist Party, which signed up to support the Tories on key measures in return for a £1bn sweetener for Northern Ireland. 

4. Even Tory MPs want changes

Although Tory MPs voted with the government, some are already planning to put down amendments to the bill on its second reading. Like the opposition, they are worried about a power grab. 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

CREDIT: CREATIVE COMMONS
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A group of men united only by sport was once my idea of hell. What changed?

It struck me, during the course of our team’s annual pre-season dinner, how much I like my team-mates. 

To the cricket team’s annual pre-season dinner. Although I’ve been playing for them for ten years or so, I’ve never been to one of these. This is because when I say “I’ve been playing for them for etc…” you’re probably not getting the right picture. What I mean is: I have played ten matches for them, and last year not at all, with a highest score of 22, and an average of 10.17. If you think that’s unimpressive, it’s a lot better than when I was a schoolboy, and I am just 26th placed out of 50 people who have played ten or more matches for them. Last year I was 25th, I see. Well, I’m going to have to do something about that.

The idea is that if I go to the dinner this time, it will inspire me to get in shape and play a game or two this season. I almost invariably enjoy it when I do, especially the time I was in a record-breaking tenth-wicket partnership of 72 while batting with a broken hand. (Well, finger. But a finger’s a part of the hand, isn’t it? Even the little finger.) I suppose there are times when I don’t enjoy it so much, such as when it’s raining hard enough for the cows in neighbouring fields to sit under a tree, but not hard enough to send us back to the pavilion or, better still, the pub, and the opposition are clouting us all over the ground despite the weather, and if we’d batted first – we never bat first, in my (limited) experience – the other lot would have polished us off about an hour ago, and we could now all be cosily inside the pavilion or, as I said earlier, even better, the pub. Then again, the team is called the Rain Men, so what did I expect?

So signing up for games involves considering a number of factors: some kind of mystic calculation about what the weather will be like, an assessment of how far away the ground is (we’re a nomadic team, so we don’t have one of our own), and how fit I think I’m going to be on the day. That’s the troublesome part. There is, of course, the melancholy of coming back, aching and knackered, at what is usually well after nine in the evening on a Sunday, lugging a cricket bag, like someone who has not been able to let go of his childhood and is out after his bedtime.

The fitness, as I said, is problematic. I got slightly out of puff going for a pee between the second and third paragraphs of this column, so I think there is going to be a lot of tedious spadework in store for me. My dumb-bells are in East Finchley, which I don’t go to, although as my cricket stuff is there too I suppose I’m going to have to bite that bullet sooner or later. If I eschew the dumb-bells then there will always be the floor, gravity, and push-ups. There will always be stairs, somewhere, I can run up and down, while I have the use of my legs. While there is an earth I can walk upon, I can walk upon it. The upper body strength, so I can pick up a cricket bat without falling over, is the thing to aim for, but right now the main goal is to be able to get out of bed and go to the loo without getting winded.

Anyway, the dinner. I decided that I’d walk to the restaurant. This was largely because the restaurant is about 200 yards from where I am holed up at the moment. There is, literally, only one restaurant closer to me. I walked a bit more than 200 yards because I had to swing by Sainsbury’s to pick up a couple of bottles of wine (the McGuigan’s Reserve Cab Sauv at £6.50 a bot, special offer, being the sedative of choice these days), as the restaurant is unlicensed. We met at the pub first, of course.

It struck me, during the course of the evening, how much I like my team-mates. I am by no means the oldest, so many of them are rich in wisdom and experience. (Amazingly, the team won more games last season than it has in its history, but that might have been because I hadn’t played for them.) Two of the people I am particularly fond of couldn’t make it, but at least I got to have A Long Rant About Life In General with Marcus Berkmann, author of two extremely amusing books about the team (Rain Men and Zimmer Men), as well as the greatest book about Star Trek ever written (Set Phasers to Stun).

Imagine: a long table sat at by a group of about 15 men, united only by a sport. It would once have been my idea of hell. So why is it not now? Is it because I actually like these guys? They’re not the typical idea of a cricket club gang, I have to say that. And we do, admittedly, talk about cricket a fair amount. But still. (I even liked I—, who gave up smoking and then had a rush of blood to the head last year and sent a round-robin email to the team saying how much he hated A—, one of our most lovable players. I— couldn’t make it to the dinner, largely on the grounds of not having been invited.) Or am I that lonely? 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 12 April 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Syria’s world war