Repeal does not appeal
The publishing of the Great Repeal Bill, officially titled the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, is probably the most significant development in the last few weeks. This Bill would revoke the 1972 European Communities Act, which took Britain into the EU, and ensure that all existing EU legislation is transcribed into domestic UK law, after which these laws can be amended. Key features of this Bill and its implications can be read here.
This Bill has many deeply worrying features. As feared, it will resuscitate archaic Henry VIII powers, allowing ministers to change laws without full Parliamentary scrutiny. Ultimately, it will allow the government to make a bonfire of important EU legislation protecting our environment and our rights. Green MP Caroline Lucas has pointed to “an enormous environment-shaped hole” in the Bill, saying there is no provision for ensuring that transposed laws are properly enforced by institutions in the UK.
I believe the Bill is the constitutional equivalent of a blank cheque. I am therefore proposing the Green Party campaigns to oppose it until the details of the negotiations with the EU are clear. I have proposed a motion to this effect for our autumn Green Party conference.
The debate about the Great Repeal Bill has also underlined that what we really need is a Great Reform Bill to deliver a fair and proportional electoral system, a fully democratic House of Lords, and a written constitution. I will continue to campaign on this too.
Opposition to Labour Brexit plans grow
Labour are in deep trouble over Brexit. A recent survey of their members showed more than 80% oppose leaving the Single Market, which is still the policy of the Labour leadership. The same poll also showed a majority of members supportive of the idea of a referendum on the final Brexit deal – something that is Green Party policy. The Labour leadership have also rejected this idea. Read my response to all this, and my call for the Labour leadership to listen to its members, here.
I have also challenged Labour MPs in the South West to end their wishful thinking over Brexit never happening and to join me in pushing for the ratification referendum as a way to ensure there is public backing for remaining in the EU. More on that here.
The single issue
As public disquiet over leaving the Single Market grows, for businesses the prospect of exiting their biggest market is really beginning to ring alarm bells. The EU is the largest export market for every city, bar one, in Britain, and South West cities top the list. Exeter exports are most dependent on the EU, with 70 per cent going to EU countries, closely followed by Plymouth (68%) and Bristol (66%). I recently met with Honda, Swindon’s major employer, and with Business West, which represents the interests of businesses in the region. Both were clear that a hard Brexit will be deeply damaging. In the case of Honda, the Customs Union is essential due to rules of origin. Theresa May has this week met business leaders to hear why it is important to them to maintain open markets and regulatory harmony between the UK and the EU.
It may sound somewhat unlikely, but I actually agree with much of what Michael Gove has said about the future of food and farming. See my response here. It makes me wonder whether he has been reading the reports I commissioned on how we can create a more sustainable farming system! Details of those reports here.
I continue to believe that the best place for UK farmers and food producers is inside the EU, and particularly inside the single market. However, leaving the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) certainly could be an opportunity to ensure that subsidies in future are paid on the basis of social and environmental benefits rather than just going to rich landowners.
I spoke to Radio 4 Today programme about Michael Gove’s vision for a so-called ‘Green Brexit’ together with a representative from a free market think tank. I emphasised the importance of rewarding farmers who are farming in a way that tackles climate change, such as restoring wetlands, greater use of agri-forestry and tree planting. You can listen to the interview here.