Labor is trying to give the UK Parliament the final say on repealing EU laws

Labor has launched a bid to prevent swaths of EU law from automatically “accidentally” disappearing from the UK code at the end of the year, in a new challenge to Rishi Sunak’s flagship Brexit legislation.

The main opposition party said its “sovereignty change” would give Parliament the final say on whether to repeal EU laws that include consumer and environmental protections and rights at work.

Labor’s amendment of the EU bill, which the government is keeping, is likely to find bipartisan support in the House of Lords and force Sunak, the Prime Minister, to mobilize his MPs to defend laws that have been criticized by business groups and some Tory MPs.

Under the bill, originally drafted by then Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg, EU legislation on the UK Code will automatically expire at the end of 2023 unless specifically maintained or amended by ministers.

Ministers have identified more than 3,700 pieces of EU legislation but admit more legislation could be found.

Business groups have warned that the EU draft law on hold will create major regulatory uncertainty.

Shadow Cabinet Secretary Lady Jenny Chapman said Labor’s amendment would require ministers to present a full list of EU legislation they want to repeal and put it to Parliament for a vote.

Chapman told the Financial Times: “The change would prevent regulations from being phased out without anyone noticing.

“The ministers would have to present this to Parliament. We call it a sovereignty change because it lets Parliament do its job.”

Chapman believes the Lords, which includes many anti-Brexit peers, will back Labor’s amendment at the reporting stage of the bill, which is expected before Easter.

If so, Sunak is expected to whip his MPs in the House of Commons to overturn the amendment. “It’s going full steam ahead,” said an ally of the prime minister.

However some senior Tory MPsincluding former Brexit Secretary David Davis and former Justice Secretary Sir Robert Buckland, have raised concerns about the bill.

Although Sunak easily crushed a rebellion over a similar amendment in the lower house last month, the matter could become a parliamentary headache for the prime minister if steam builds up in the upper house.

“There could be quite a ding-dong in the ping-pong,” Buckland said, referring to the process by which a bill in its final stages bounces back and forth between the Lords and the Commons.

Ultimately, Labor officials said the Lords would accept MPs having the last word but the parliamentary struggle would put the spotlight on a bill that has broad opposition well beyond Westminster.

“We would prefer the government to listen to reason,” Chapman said. “It’s a more responsible way of governing.”

Tory MPs believe Sunak wants to fuel the “EU bureaucracy campfire” because it will help satisfy Eurosceptic Conservatives who believe the government has yet to seize the “opportunities” presented by Brexit.

Sunak is also negotiating with Brussels over post-Brexit changes to Northern Ireland’s trade arrangements and knows he cannot afford to upset his MPs at such a sensitive moment.

Lord Martin Callanan, speaking for the government in the House of Lords this week, insisted the bill was “not a seizure of power” by ministers. Lord David Frost, former Brexit Secretary, said inherited EU laws had “little real legitimacy”.

But Lord Michael Heseltine, former Tory Deputy Prime Minister, said of the bill: “They have actually put a huge question mark over a whole body of legislation which is the keeper separating us from the law of the jungle.”

Some Tory MPs believe delays in passing the law could force Sunak to extend the December 31 deadline when EU laws could automatically expire. Labor is trying to give the UK Parliament the final say on repealing EU laws

Adam Bradshaw

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