David Davis has issued a plea to MPs of all parties to “work with him” to deliver the Government’s flagship Brexit legislation, ahead of a bruising parliamentary showdown.
With Labour, Liberal Democrats and Scottish and Welsh nationalists lined up to oppose the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, the Government faces a fight to clear what is normally the formality of a second reading in the Commons.
Speaking before the start of the two-day debate on Thursday, Prime Minister Theresa May urged MPs from across the House to work towards the “shared aim” of securing the best possible Brexit for Britain.
But Labour sources insisted the bill was “completely unacceptable”, as it hands wide-ranging authority to ministers to amend the law without securing parliamentary consent under so-called Henry VIII powers.
The bill – sometimes described by ministers as a “great repeal bill” – will overturn the 1972 act which took Britain into the European Economic Community and will transpose relevant EU law onto the UK statute book to ensure there are no gaps in legislation at the point of Brexit.
Jeremy Corbyn has ordered Labour MPs to vote against second reading on Monday, and other parties have tabled “reasoned amendments” stating that the Commons should refuse to let the legislation progress through Parliament in its current form.
But the chances of a Government defeat look slim, with pro-EU Tory Anna Soubry playing down the prospect of a rebellion and some Brexit-backing Labour MPs thought likely to defy Mr Corbyn’s whip.
Prominent Leave campaigner and Labour MP for Vauxhall Kate Hoey said anyone opposing it at second reading would be “betraying the will of the British people”.
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Mrs May said: “The repeal bill helps deliver the outcome the British people voted for by ending the role of the EU in UK law, but it’s also the single most important step we can take to prevent a cliff-edge for people and businesses, because it provides legal certainty.
“We’ve made time for proper parliamentary scrutiny of Brexit legislation, and I look forward to the contributions of MPs from across the House.
“But that contribution should fit with our shared aim: to help get the best Brexit for Britain.”
Mr Davis promised to work with MPs and to take action if they identified any right which would be lost as a result of the bill.
“If anyone in this House finds a substantive right that is not carried forward into UK law, they should say so,” he said.
“No-one has yet brought to my attention a right we have missed.
“We are not rejecting EU law, but embracing the work done between member states in over 40 years of membership and using that solid foundation to build on in the future, once we return to being masters of our own laws.
“I hope everyone in this House recognises this bill’s essential nature – it is the foundation upon which we will legislate for years to come – and I look forward to working with the whole House to deliver the bill.”
But a Labour spokesman said: “In this bill, the Government is making a power grab to change a whole set of legislation and rules without recourse to Parliament.
“That ranges from the date of Brexit to the amount of money paid to the EU to employment and social legislation and environmental legislation.
“Under the proposals, the Brexit Secretary can make these changes at the stroke of a pen. That is completely undemocratic.”