Britain’s chief negotiator in the country’s divorce from the European Union on Thursday rejected suggestions that the UK has threatened to end security cooperation unless it gets a good trade deal with the bloc’s remaining member countries.
The British government, meanwhile, announced plans for the huge task of converting thousands of EU laws and regulations — covering everything from the safety of airplanes to the curve of bananas — into domestic statutes.
Brexit Secretary David Davis said Prime Minister Theresa May’s letter Wednesday triggering talks on Britain’s departure made clear Britain wants to continue to work with the EU on a range of issues, including security.
“We want a deal, and she was making the point that it’s bad for both of us if we don’t have a deal,” Davis told the BBC. “Now that, I think, is a perfectly reasonable point to make and not in any sense a threat.”
May’s six-page letter launching two years of divorce negotiations made 11 references to security, and said that without a good deal, “our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened.”
The Sun tabloid was in no doubt about what May meant: “Your money or your lives,” was its front-page headline Thursday, along with the words “PM’s Brexit threat to EU.”
Britain is a European security powerhouse. It’s one of only two nuclear powers in the bloc and boasts some of the world’s most capable intelligence services.
May said Wednesday that Britain probably would have to withdraw from EU police agency Europol after Brexit, but wants to “maintain the degree of cooperation on these matters that we have currently.”
Home Secretary Amber Rudd, whose responsibilities include intelligence and security, also denied that May’s letter carried a threat, but told Sky News: “If we left Europol, then we would take our information … with us. The fact is, the European partners want to keep our information.”
Senior European leaders responded positively to the warm overall tone of May’s letter — but they could not miss the steely undertone.
“I find the letter of Mrs. May very constructive generally, but there is also one threat in it,” European Parliament Brexit coordinator Guy Verhoftstadt said, adding that May seemed to be demanding a good trade deal in exchange for continued security cooperation.
“It doesn’t work like that,” he told Sky News. “You cannot abuse the security of citizens to have then a good deal on something else.”
A day after triggering the EU exit process, the British government began outlining Thursday how it intends to convert thousands of EU rules into British laws when it finally leaves the bloc.
The government published plans for a Great Repeal Bill that would transform more than 12,000 EU laws in force in Britain into U.K. statute so that “the same rules will apply after exit day” as before. The bill is designed to prevent Britain plunging into a legislative black hole once it extricates itself from the EU.
“Our laws will then be made in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast – and interpreted not by judges in Luxembourg, but by judges across the United Kingdom,” Brexit Secretary Davis told lawmakers in the House of Commons.
To accomplish the transition, lawmakers are being asked to delegate authority to the government to change some laws without a vote in Parliament, using so-called Henry VIII powers.
While the government says it would only use such powers to clean up technical issues, opposition lawmakers fear the Conservative government could bypass Parliament to water down worker rights and environmental protections introduced in Britain during four decades of EU membership.
Labour lawmaker Chuka Umunna said some Conservatives wanted to “to cut the rights of British working people.”
From anti-discrimination laws to sick-pay rules, “too many Conservatives see Brexit as a chance for a damaging bonfire of regulations,” Umunna said.
The government insists the executive powers would be time-limited and only used to make “mechanical changes” so laws can be applied smoothly. It says it is trying to balance “the need for scrutiny and the need for speed.”
Simon James, a partner at international law firm Clifford Chance, said Parliament doesn’t have the capacity to review all EU law and make necessary changes over the next two years, and any attempt to do so “would be doomed to failure.”
He said “the task involves more than the application of a blue pencil to minor elements of EU legislation.”
“It will entail immediate policy choices as to what EU law should continue to apply in post-Brexit Britain and, if it should, how it needs to be changed in order to work effectively,” James wrote in a briefing paper.
The House of Lords said in a report published earlier this month that the job of adapting the EU regulations into British law is complicated by the “scale and complexity of the task,” as well the fact that some decisions will be dependent on the result of Britain’s negotiations with the EU.