The government’s proposals for converting the acquis of EU law into domestic law came under all-round attack from legal figures today as the repeal legislation began its process through the House of Commons. 

In a hard-hitting report on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill the House of Lords Constitution Committee condemns the measure’s proposed use of so-called ’Henry VIII’ powers. The bill weaves ’a tapestry of delegated powers that are breath-taking in terms of both their scope and potency’, the committee chaired by Baroness Taylor of Bolton (former Labour MP Ann Taylor) said. 

Formal parliamentary scrutiny of the bill begins this afternoon. 

According to the committee, the bill’s proposals for maintaining legal continuity after March 2019 ’would fundamentally challenge the constitutional balance of powers between parliament and government and would represent a significant—and unacceptable—transfer of legal competence. We stress the need for an appropriate balance between the urgency required to ensure legal continuity and stability, and meaningful parliamentary scrutiny and control of the executive.’

The bill’s uncertainties and ambiguities ’raise fundamental concerns from a rule of law perspective,’ the report concludes.  

Meanwhile, Andrew Langdon QC, chairman of the bar, said the bill would set up UK citizens for second class status after Brexit.

He said in a statement: ‘After exit day, UK citizens will find that domestic courts enforce the same laws as they do now, except that they may not be able to apply the underlying treaty provision. This could mean that where the rights of EU and UK citizens are interfered with by the same law, EU citizens would be able to challenge that law, but UK citizens would not.

’UK citizens would no longer be able to challenge EU law brought into UK law on the basis of non-discrimination, proportionality, legal certainty or the right of defence, he said. ‘Instead, legal challenges will be limited to more restrictive English law grounds such as rationality.’

As an example, Langdon cited the Welsh government’s 2014 plan to give 10 times as much farming aid to lowland farmers as hill farmers, a move abandoned when hill farmers pointed out that the decision was discriminatory. ‘That argument will not work after exit day,’ Langdon said.