The UK Government published its White Paper on the Great Repeal Bill on 30 March 2017, one day after it served notice under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, confirming that it will withdraw from the EU following last year's Brexit referendum (see our Article 50 Briefing here).

Theresa May had first signalled her intention to introduce the Great Repeal Bill at the October 2016 Conservative Party Conference. The White Paper sets out further detail on how the Great Repeal Bill is expected to work. The Bill itself was expected to be introduced to Parliament at the start of the next Parliamentary session however, the timing of that next Parliamentary session is expected to change as a result of the announcement by Theresa May, on 18 April 2017, that she is calling a General Election for 8 June 2017.

WHAT WILL THE GREAT REPEAL BILL DO?

» Repeal and convert legislation

The UK Government's plan is to ensure that, on the day after Brexit, the same rules will apply as applied before Brexit. To achieve this, the Bill will repeal the European Communities Act 1972 and, at the same time, convert existing EU legislation into UK law. The individual EU directives, EU regulations and primary and secondary UK laws that are in-scope is likely to number close to 20,000. UK legislation that transposed EU directives will be retained, and EU regulations that have direct effect will be converted into UK law. If there are laws that would otherwise fall away on Brexit, the Bill will preserve those. The Bill will also amend any UK laws that need to be changed to reflect the final Brexit terms agreed between the EU and the UK, and limited powers will be delegated to the UK Government to make secondary legislation if changes are needed to deal with anomalies or gaps that arise as part of the process of converting EU law to UK law.

» Status of the European Court of Justice's decisions

While, following Brexit, the Great Repeal Bill and future (non EU based) UK legislation will not be interpreted in light of the decisions of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), any issues in relation to legislation that is derived from EU law will, following Brexit, be determined by the UK courts having regard to the decisions made by the ECJ up to the date of Brexit. ECJ decisions up to that date are expected to be given the same status as decisions of the UK's Supreme Court.

» Status of EU treaties

EU treaties give helpful legal context to various EU laws. For those laws that are converted into UK law on Brexit, the Great Repeal Bill is expected to allow the UK courts to continue to have regard to those treaties.

EU treaties also give EU citizens certain rights that they can rely on in court. The White Paper indicates that the Great Repeal Bill will replicate those rights in UK law.

WILL OTHER BILLS BE NEEDED?

Yes. The White Paper notes that there are matters that the Great Repeal Bill will not be able to address. It is designed to deal with existing laws, not new rules that will be put in place following Brexit (for example, new customs union arrangements and immigration-related arrangements).

WHAT WILL HAPPEN BETWEEN NOW AND BREXIT?

Between now and Brexit, the White Paper confirms that the UK Government will continue to negotiate, implement and apply EU law. The Bill will only become law on the date of Brexit, and the draft (once published) is likely to require amendment as Brexit negotiations progress over the next two years.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN AFTER BREXIT?

The Bill itself is not expected to introduce any major policy changes. Instead, it is aimed at maximising certainty, minimising disruption and enabling an orderly Brexit. Once Brexit has taken place, UK laws may then be amended to reflect changes to the UK Government's domestic and foreign policy from time to time. According to the White Paper, those subsequent changes will be for the UK's democratically elected representatives to develop and debate in line with the UK's normal legislative process.

IMMINENT DEVELOPMENTS

On 31 March 2017, EU Council President Donald Tusk presented his draft negotiating guidelines to the leaders of the other 27 EU Member States. These are expected to be adopted at a special EU 27 European Council meeting on 29 April, and Brexit negotiations are expected to start in June after the UK General Election.