To listen to David Davis you would think that the Great Repeal Bill was nothing more than a tedious administrative errand. His rhetoric suggests that despite the name, it will repeal nothing. It is simply something we need to do in order to translate EU law into UK law in time for Brexit. Nothing else will change. Those who disagree are just trying to cause trouble and frustrate the outcome of the EU referendum.
The Great Repeal Bill will start to be debated in early September. But leaks already show that Davis is wrong – fundamental rights and powers that ordinary citizens currently enjoy will be scrapped.
This week we have discovered, for instance, that British citizens will no longer be able to sue the government for breaking the law.We will lose our rights, if the government gets its way, to sue for compensation in court when the government acts illegally and infringes our rights at work, or our right to a clean and healthy environment.
Currently, a European ruling means an individual can seek damages if the government has failed to properly implement the law. But the government says that no similar domestic law exists, so there will be no legal mechanism to get such redress in future.
There will be plenty more where this comes from. The Great Repeal Bill, after all, awards our government powers that no modern government has enjoyed in peacetime. And far from simply changing the words “European Union” into “United Kingdom”, ministers will gain the ability to make radical changes to fundamental human rights and environmental protections that simply don’t make sense when taken out of an EU context.
As if this weren’t bad enough, Trade Secretary Liam Fox is touring the planet looking for unsavoury regimes we can sign deregulatory trade deals with. And at the heart of those trade deals, in all likelihood, will be special “corporate courts” that allow foreign businesses the power to sue governments for regulations they judge to be “unfair”.
That’s right – as British citizens lose their ability to hold the government to account in court, foreign multinationals will gain rights to sue the government in secret arbitration panels for passing a regulation or standard that those corporations believe will damage their profits.
We know this because these “courts”, formally known as Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), already exist in hundreds of investment deals in which countries all over the world have been secretly sued for such radical actions as putting cigarettes in plain packaging, placing a moratorium on fracking, removing toxic chemicals from petrol. No appeal is allowed. And we know that the British government has been one of the most vociferous in the world in putting the case for such courts.
So a trade deal with Trump’s US will certainly contain ISDS – opening future British governments to secretive legal action by tens of thousands of US multinationals.
It may also play a role in a future UK-EU trade deal, should we get to that point. And here’s the ultimate irony. The Brexiteers loathe the European Court of Justice, which apparently violates our sovereignty and forces our government to abide by “foreign” laws. But the ECJ is a properly constituted, professional and accountable court.
Under the sort of trade deal we’re likely to do with the EU, that jurisdiction will likely be replaced by a secret court, only accessible to foreign big business concerned with their “right” to make a profit.
If you were ever worried that Brexit was less about freeing citizens from the imposition of foreign law, and more about freeing big business from the constraints of social and environmental regulation, the activities of David Davis and Liam Fox show that your concerns are well founded.
Nick Dearden is director of Global Justice Now