LONDON - Britain's chief negotiator in the country's divorce from the European Union on Thursday rejected suggestions the U.K. has threatened to end security cooperation unless it gets a good trade deal, as the U.K. announced plans for the huge task of replacing thousands of EU laws and regulations with domestic law.
Brexit Secretary David Davis said Prime Minister Theresa May's letter triggering talks on Britain's departure made clear Britain wants to continue to work with the EU on a range of issues, including security, for both sides.
"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 triggering two years of divorce negotiations makes 11 references to security, and said that without a good deal, "our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened."
The tabloid Sun 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 — one of only two nuclear powers in the bloc and with some of the world's most capable intelligence services.
May said Wednesday that Britain will probably have to leave the 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 there was 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," said European Parliament Brexit coordinator Guy Verhoftstadt, saying 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 its EU exit process, the British government began outlining Thursday how it intends to convert thousands of EU rules into British law when it leaves the bloc in 2019.
The government published plans for a Great Repeal Bill that will 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.
Davis told lawmakers it would ensure that British laws are made not in Brussels but "in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast."
But opposition lawmakers are unhappy at plans to give government ministers power to change some laws without votes in Parliament.
They fear the Conservative government will use it as a chance to water down workers' rights and environmental protections introduced in Britain during four decades of EU membership.
Labour Party Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said the proposed bill "gives sweeping powers to the executive" and lacks "rigorous safeguards" on their abuse.
The government insists executive powers will be time-limited and will only be 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."
The government says Parliament will be able to scrutinize all "substantive policy changes," including new customs and immigration laws, and that environmental, workplace and human rights standards will stay in force.