In this episode, Rosalind English discusses with Isabel McArdle and Sarabjit Singh QC a number of laws containing Henry VIII powers, including the Childcare Act 2016, Section 8 of the European Union Withdrawal Act 2018, Section 31 of the EU Future Relationship Act 2020, the Coronavirus Act 2020 and Section 51 of the Taxation (Cross-Border Trade) Act 2018. Emma-Louise Fenelon did of course explore this subject in depth with the Public Law Project and Lord Anderson of Ipswich QC in Episode 129: Brexit and the Flaws of Delegated Legislation ; this episode takes this important subject further.
Henry VIII powers enable a minister to amend primary law by secondary legislation, effectively bypassing parliament. They also touch on the popularity of so-called “skeleton bills”. These bills are favoured by those in power because they have no policy in them so there’s nothing to scrutinise by both Houses of Parliament. And Henry VIII clauses are what feed these bills.
Following Brexit, everything from financial services, immigration from Europe, fisheries, agriculture – can all be achieved under Henry VIII in skeleton bills. The concern, from a constitutional perspective, is that there’s a lack of parliamentary scrutiny. They give huge power to ministers to amend and repeal Acts of Parliament.
We have to apologise for the building works sound effects in the background of this episode. We welcome our listeners to perceive them as an appropriate metaphor for the government hammering home their policies under these Henry VIII powers.
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