In order to deal with tens of thousands of EU laws, regulations, treaties and directives that must be incorporated into UK law on Brexit Day, the British government is proposing to invoke powers that date back 500 years to the time of King Henry VIII.

These arcane British parliamentary procedures date back to the 16th century. In 1539, King Henry VIII, not a man it was easy to cross, published a Statute of Proclamations, which gave his decisions and commands the same legal status as legislative acts passed by Parliament. Since then, governments have on rare occasions used Henry VIII clauses to repeal or amend legislation by a “secondary act” which involves little or no Parliamentary scrutiny.

Their use in the Great Repeal Bill is being presented as a common-sense way of avoiding wasting Parliamentary time over tedious, technical regulations on consumer labeling or food packaging. Additionally the government may not know which bits of EU law are affected until the shape of the Brexit deal emerges, which could be perilously close to “Brexit Day” on March 29 2019.

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