Lords scrutinising Brexit bill label it 'aberration' that could create 'Wild West legal system'

Britain's Prime Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street to attend the weekly Prime Ministers' Questions session in parliament in London, Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Boris Johnson's Brexit bill was criticised in the Lords on Wednesday (AP/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

The government’s Brexit plans were today described as an “aberration” as peers in the House of Lords raised fears they could create a “Wild West legal system”.

Boris Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement Bill is currently at committee stage in the Lords, the eighth of 11 hurdles it needs to pass to gain Royal Assent and become law.

But Lord Anderson of Ipswich, a lawyer, warned of provisions in the bill that would give law-changing powers to ministers enabling them to override protections given by law to citizens.

“Taking back control of our laws is one of the principle points of Brexit,” he said.

“[But] to stand by and see these law-changing powers given to ministers is quite another matter.

“If ministers were free to remove the binding force of principles they didn’t like, they could selectively neuter the protections given by law to workers, consumers, disadvantaged groups and the environment.”

Lord Judge, meanwhile, warned it “would be a power any populist government would love to have” while Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb described the plans as an “aberration” which should be resisted.

She said: “An over-confident government wants to completely redraw the checks and balances that exist in our constitution so ministers can opt out of legal precedent at will.”

Lady Jones warned this would create a “Wild West of legal uncertainty”.

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But Lord Keen of Elie, for the government, said the intention was to “give a power to make regulations to ensure UK courts are not inappropriately bound by retained EU case law” after leaving the EU.

He said the bill requires ministers to consult with the senior judiciary before making any regulations, which would also have to be laid before Parliament - though Boris Johnson commands a comfortable Tory majority of 80.

Brexit: 16 days until Britain is scheduled to leave the EU