Britain to Keep EU Laws (For Now), May Announces

Theresa May is unable to deliver on the Brexit campaign’s promise of deregulation.

British prime minister Theresa May greets European Council president Donald Tusk outside 10 Downing Street in London, England, September 8
British prime minister Theresa May greets European Council president Donald Tusk outside 10 Downing Street in London, England, September 8 (European Council)

Prime Minister Theresa May provided more clarity on Britain’s exit from the European Union on Sunday in an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr.

Her headline-grabbing announcement was that she plans to trigger Article 50 of the EU treaty before the end of March, giving the United Kingdom until early 2019 to negotiate what May said she hopes will be a “smooth transition” away from the EU.

More arcane, but more important, was her proposal to enshrine all existing EU law into British law while repealing the 1972 European Communities Act, which originally incorporated EU law into British law.

“That means the UK will be an independent sovereign nation,” she said. “It will be making its own laws.”

Which is playing to the pro-Brexit gallery.

Unrealistic

The reality is the Brexiteers’ hopes of massive deregulation were unrealistic from the start.

I wrote here before the referendum in June that transferring EU law into British law would be a excruciating process.

Lawmakers could simply translate all EU law into British law with a single act, I pointed out, but then what would be the point of leaving?

If — as they did — Britons voted to leave EU, I thought it more likely Parliament would have to decide on a per-case basis which EU laws to keep and which ones to repeal. That’s what “taking back control” implied.

It would have been a huge inconvenience: for businesses and investors, who would have had to cope with years of regulatory uncertainty; for workers, who could have seen their rights imperiled; and for politicians, who would have had to work overtime to scrutinize an enormous body of law in addition to performing the normal functions of government.

Broken promise

May’s alternative — keeping all EU laws for the time being — is preferable on many levels.

It is also true, as she told Marr, that Parliament can change or repeal any EU-made-into-British law in the future.

But it’s also another broken promise of the Brexit campaign.

Just as Britain won’t be able to retain full access to the European single market without accepting the free movement of people (something all European leaders made clear before the referendum, but something the Brexit side simply refused to accept), it cannot rid itself of all EU laws and regulations without hurting its trade relations with the rest of Europe and thus its own economy.

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