May is due to send a letter to EU leaders in Brussels on Wednesday, announcing the start of departure negotiations. The following day, her government will publish detailed plans for its Great Repeal Bill.
Despite its name, the main purpose of the bill isn’t to repeal, it’s to convert EU law into British law, with the aim of ensuring continuity in the months after Britain leaves the bloc sometime in early 2019. A contentious part of the bill may be wide powers for ministers to change the rules as they’re converted to UK statutes. The government argues this is essential to remove references to European institutions. But Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour Party, expressed doubts.
“We need total accountability at every stage of this whole Brexit negotiation,” Corbyn told ITV’s Peston on Sunday show.
“We’re not going to sit there and hand over powers to this government to override parliament, override democracy and just set down a series of diktats on what’s going to happen in the future.”
While the constitutional detail may sound obscure, if May fails to get the powers she needs from parliament, she could struggle to deliver favourable Brexit conditions.
A blockage over the expanded powers could give her the excuse she currently lacks to call an early general election, something she has so far rejected, despite her poll lead over Corbyn.
May was scheduled to visit Scotland on Monday, two days before she triggers Article 50, the mechanism for leaving the bloc. There, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is arguing that Brexit is a justification for another independence referendum, something that May has said she’ll block.
“As Britain leaves the EU, and we forge a new role for ourselves in the world, the strength and stability of our Union will become even more important,” May said in a speech during her visit.
“When this great union of nations - England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - sets its mind on something and works together with determination, we are an unstoppable force.”
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, said the continuity of the Northern Ireland peace process is one of the first issues the bloc wants to address in divorce talks. The others are Britain honouring its commitments to the EU budget and the rights of EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in the EU, he said in an article for the Financial Times (FT) published on Sunday.
Unity among the remaining 27 EU states during the negotiations will be better for Britain as well as for the bloc as it would increase the chances of a deal being agreed within the two-year time limit, Barnier said. Openness will enhance that unity, he argued.
“The unity of the 27 will be stronger when based on full transparency and public debate. We have nothing to hide,” he wrote in the FT.