Salzburg Summit - Why We Were Right To Be Concerned About Henry VIII Powers



Salzburg summit: taking a turn for the worse

The Salzburg summit was never expected to be a crunch point in the negotiations. Instead, it was expected that EU leaders would give Theresa May sufficient reassurance about her Brexit plans to take to the Conservative party conference and see off threats to her leadership. EU leaders were not pleased with the uncompromising tone May struck during the summit, which signalled she was not ready accept the EU’s proposal for rewriting the backstop. Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, announced on Thursday that the EU27 have agreed that Chequers “will not work”, on the basis that it risks undermining the EU's single market. Tusk also told reporters that a planned November summit to finalise the deal is by no means set in stone. The Council will make that decision in October, if May offers a solution to the Irish border issue, which she expressed would be impossible within such a timescale.

Both sides agree that there needs to be a backstop to ensure that, under all circumstances, there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. May rejected the EU’s attempt to “de-dramatise” the Irish border question, which entailed building on existing infrastructure at British ports, with British customs inspectors carrying out inspections at British ports on goods going from Britain to Northern Ireland. During the press conference on Thursday, May said:“if there is no agreement that is acceptable to the UK, there will be no deal”. Now that the EU has rejected Chequers outright, Conservative party conference will prove even more treacherous for May, with pro-Brexit MPs preparing to oust her.

After the summit, the possibility of there being no deal continues to loom on the horizon. The Alliance have written previously about the significant issues civil society will face in the event of there being no deal here. Theresa May today delivered a statement from 10 Downing St, making it clear that the ball is in the EU’s court. Essentially the statement was more drama than any real substance. She repeated what she said during the summit- the UK will not accept any offer that undermine the constitutional integrity of the UK and the Government is preparing for a no deal.

It is also worth repeating that while the politics keep swirling and tensions are increasing, a hard border will have profound implications on the rights of Northern Irish citizens and the freedom of movement of people. BrexitLawNI’s, a partnership from Queen’s University Belfast, Ulster University and Committee on the Administration of Justice, produced a report on border controls and free movement. This shows that post-Brexit arrangements “carries serious risks of facilitating widespread racial discrimination and undermine confidence in and the framework for policing introduced by the peace process”.

Henry VIII powers may be used to scrap food standards

Remember all those concerns the Alliance and our members raised about the extraordinarily wide powers handed to ministers in the EU Withdrawal Act? Remember how the Government time and time again promised on the floor of the House that these powers would not be used to change policy and that MPs would be able to scrutinise the use of these powers?

Well, events this week shows that we were right to be concerned about the extent of the contentious Henry VIII powers. Multiple sources have told Business Insider that Liam Fox is planning to use Henry VIII powers in the Trade Bill to scrap current food standards to strike a deal with the US. In response, Fox tweeted that “there will be no lowering of food standards”. He did not deny that Henry VIII powers may be used to change food standards, nor does it alleviate concerns when Fox has previously stated that “there are no health reasons why you couldn’t eat chickens that have been washed in chlorinated water”. This goes directly against the repeated promise by the Government that these powers would only be used for technical changes, not watering down standards, which there is no public appetite for.

Government backtracks on promise to offer MPs scrutiny of delegated legislation

What’s more is that correspondence between chair of the Procedure Committee, Charles Walker and junior minister Chris Heaton shows that the Government is already backtracking on their promises to afford proper parliamentary scrutiny of delegated legislation made under the EU Withdrawal Act. In essence, the Government is retracting their commitment to produce a written ministerial statement if they disagree with a recommendation from the committee sifting through the statutory instruments (a form of secondary legislation) made under the Act. Instead, the Government are now saying that all ministers have to do is produce an explanatory memorandum after the statutory instrument has been signed into law. As Alex Runswick (Director, Unlock Democracy) wrote for the Times yesterday, it may sound like a dry parliamentary procedure but “it matters because it speaks to the government’s attitude to parliamentary scrutiny of the Brexit process”. Mark Elliot has also written a more detailed analysis well worth reading here.

Join us at the Labour Party conference!

We’re hosting a fringe event at the Labour Party Conference on 24th September, 12.30-14.00. With less than 7 months before we leave the European Union, there are still questions left unanswered about what implications Brexit will have on the devolved nature of the UK constitution. Our fringe event will bring together leading experts from across the UK to explore the implications leaving the EU will have on our hard-won devolution settlements. The event is free and open to all. Register here.


NewsletterSamuel Ellis