Theresa May will kick-start the Brexit countdown in the spring with a “Great Repeal Bill” that will scrap the legislation that took Britain into Europe more than 40 years ago.
The prime minister will tell the Conservative Party conference today that she will introduce legislation in the next Queen’s speech — expected in April or May — to make Britain “a sovereign and independent country” again.
The government will overturn the 1972 European Communities Act, the legal means through which the European Union exercises its authority in the UK. This will ensure laws are made in Britain not Brussels. The move — unveiled to mark 100 days since the EU referendum — will force a showdown and votes in parliament between MPs and peers backing Brexit and those who may want to derail the process.
This announcement comes as the prime minister confirmed in an interview on the BBC 1’s Andrew Marr Show that she will formally begin the Brexit process and trigger Article 50 by the end of March 2017.
“It’s not just important for the UK but important for Europe as a whole that we’re able to do this in the best possible way so we have the least disruption for businesses, and when we leave the EU we have a smooth transition from the EU,” she told Marr.
May’s initiative is a response to complaints from the former cabinet ministers Nicky Morgan and Kenneth Clarke that she does not have a plan, and will calm Eurosceptics demanding she explain what “Brexit means Brexit” will look like.
May revealed her plans in an interview with The Sunday Times, the first she has given to a national newspaper since becoming prime minister in July. In the interview May, who turned 60 yesterday, also:
Ruled out a general election before 2020, warning that an early vote would cause “instability”
Signalled she would not wait until German elections in September 2017 to trigger article 50, the process by which negotiations begin with Brussels
Talked about her sadness that her parents did not live to see her become prime minister.
Announcing the historic change, May said: “We will introduce, in the next Queen’s speech, a Great Repeal Bill that will remove the European Communities Act from the statute book. That was the act that took us into the European Union.
“This marks the first stage in the UK becoming a sovereign and independent country once again. It will return power and authority to the elected institutions of our country. It means that the authority of EU law in Britain will end.”
Under the plans, the 1972 act would be overturned in advance of Britain leaving the EU but the repeal would take legal effect the moment the UK formally pulled out. On that day domestic law decided by British judges would be supreme once more and the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg would no longer be able to deliver judgments binding on the UK. All Britain’s laws would remain but the government could pass new laws to overturn EU rules in any areas it wished.
May has rejected calls by hardline Eurosceptics to overturn the 1972 act immediately, saying her plan would provide “maximum security, stability and certainty for workers, consumers, and businesses, as well as for our international allies”.
May’s speech today is an attempt to park the Europe issue so she can spend the rest of the conference spelling out her vision of a “new centre ground” in politics and a “Britain that works for everyone”.
The Brexit secretary, David Davis, the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, and Priti Patel, the international development secretary, will also give speeches today. The international trade secretary, Liam Fox, will speak tomorrow.
May’s announcement came as Clarke warned that it could take up to eight years to leave the EU. “You need to have some interim agreement in the next two years,” the veteran Tory said. “Then it will take you another five or six years with lots of boffins locked away thrashing out agreements.”
In an interview with The Sunday Times, Clarke said May would have to be prepared to be “one of the most hated people in the country” if she is to be successful — and urged her to stand up to the Eurosceptics demanding a “hard Brexit”.
“Any agreement that is produced will eventually be denounced by the headbanging faction of the Brexiteers as a betrayal — anything short of a tribute in gold being presented to the Queen once a year by the EU. Then they would say she should have three.”
Clarke spoke out as a new pressure group of Tory MPs demanding that Britain stay engaged with the EU prepares to launch itself at the conference. Conservative Influence will press for as close a relationship as possible with Brussels.
An Ipsos Mori poll commissioned by the group shows today that 77% of voters agree that after leaving the EU, Britain should still “work closely” with the EU on issues other than trade, such as security and climate change. Only 6% disagreed.
The group claimed the survey “casts clear doubt over levels of support for a ‘hard Brexit’ from the European Union or a policy stance which would see the UK distancing itself from the EU on matters of cross-border interest”. Karl McCartney, an MP backing the new group, said: “We must leave the EU in order to lead in the world and not isolate ourselves from it. Brexit cannot be a routemap for a new isolationism and this group is forming to make that point.”
The prime minister will be under intense pressure to explain the kind of relationship she thinks Britain needs to have with the rest of the EU.
Leading sceptics who have joined a pressure group called Leave Means Leave called for the 1972 act to be repealed immediately. The group, including the former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, called on May to offer a take-it-or-leave-it deal with the EU on goods and services but, if the EU refuses, to walk away rather than enter protracted talks with 27 other countries.
That would mean moving to World Trade Organisation rules with tariffs on goods and services but might avoid years of turmoil, in which any EU country could derail the negotiations.
John Longworth, the former director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, will be the group’s co-chairman. He said a clean break was better than a substandard version of what Britain already had.
“We need to recognise that trying to preserve a poorer version of what we had before is a bad idea and we need to embrace an entirely new approach to the economy and the rest of the world. A huge amount of the benefits of Brexit is not to do with a trade deal, it’s to do with how we run our economy at home. We can get a massive step change if we do the right things. A 10% cut in regulation would lead to an increase of 0.7% in GDP.”
2nd October 2016, The Times