After a quiet first few months, the Prime Minister has finally put some flesh on the bones of her Brexit strategy, announcing at the Conservative Party conference a timetable and the formal means by which she intends to decouple the UK from the EU. The Great Repeal Bill – highly likely to feature in next year’s Queen’s Speech – will repeal the 1972 European Communities Act, and end the legal supremacy of European law in the UK.
This was music to the ears of many of her Eurosceptic backbenchers, some of whom were already becoming restless at what appeared to be the Government’s ‘slow-motion’ approach to Brexit. This announcement will have buoyed their spirits.
However, the Prime Minister faces a difficult challenge as she engineers this ground-breaking piece of legislation through Parliament. The Liberal Democrats and the SNP can confidently be expected to vote against the Bill, but what about the Labour Party?
Should Labour oppose the Bill, the Prime Minister may find herself relying on a handful of votes from Eurosceptic Labour backbenchers and the DUP, particularly if other Conservatives follow veteran MP Ken Clarke, who has announced his intention to oppose Brexit in Parliament. It is difficult to envisage Jeremy Corbyn letting the Prime Minister off the hook so easily by instructing his MPs to support the Government. Indeed another free vote could be a convenient way for him to paper over the cracks in his party, but could also further claims about his ‘directionless’ leadership.
If a deal is stitched together, it is likely to run into further problems in the House of Lords where there has long been a pro-EU majority. Brexit allows them to further indulge their new-found taste for enacting defeats upon the Government. Some Peers have already stated publicly their intention to block Brexit when the issue comes before the House.
If successful, the situation could get very messy. The Prime Minister could invoke the Parliament Act, a rarely used mechanism used to resolve disputes by asserting the primacy of the Commons over the Lords – something she is unlikely to be keen on doing. Alternatively she might resolve the deadlock by seeking a dissolution of Parliament and forcing a General Election – something she is probably even less keen on.
On top of that, Scotland’s Brexit Minister, Michael Russell has said that the Scottish Parliament might block the Bill by defeating a legislative consent motion which he claims is formally required to give effect to the Bill.
There are few certainties in politics, but we can be sure that the Prime Minister is right in saying there will be ‘bumps in the road’ as she navigates the most significant political and constitutional changes of modern times through a divided Parliament. But how and where it will all end, no one can be quite sure.