Government plans to remove thousands of EU laws from the statute book passed through the House of Commons on Wednesday (18 January) despite resistance that included some Conservative Party backbenchers.
The Retained EU Law Bill will now move to the House of Lords, where it is expected to face further opposition.
Described by supporters as a ‘Brexit bonfire’ of EU laws, the act would require all EU-derived “secondary” legislation to be reviewed by government departments by the end of 2023.
Up to 4,000 rules could be affected but the exact number is unknown.
Sunset on EU law
The bill contains a “sunset clause,” meaning any legislation not converted into UK law or revoked by the end of 2023 will drop off the statute book although this can be extended to 2026 for complex regulation, reports the FT.
Financial services and markets legislation is deliberately excluded from these clauses, according to law firm Macfarlanes, and will be dealt with separately.
The bill also abolishes the principle of supremacy of EU law, which requires UK courts to interpret EU laws in line with rulings of the European Court of Justice.
According to Politico, politicians, business groups and civil servants are worried about an alleged rush to repeal, a lack of government capacity to properly review the changes and the potential for key laws to accidentally expire.
Critics included former Brexit secretary David Davis and Sir Robert Buckland, a former justice secretary.
Opponents worry that safeguards for workers’ rights and environmental standards will be eroded in the move, reports the Independent.
Civil servants in Whitehall departments with large amounts of retained EU law – such as the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy – say that “reviewing or revoking” so many laws is a “Herculean labour” and will involve huge amounts of people and money. According to a report in The Observer, the total bill could run to “tens of millions”.
Nick von Westenholz, the National Farmers' Union’s director of trade and business, said the legislation risked unintentionally removing important regulatory safeguards.
During the debate, Lib Dem MP Sarah Olney raised concerns that many key sectors would be left in “legislative confusion”, with EU laws scrapped and no UK laws to take their place.
However, industry and investment security minister Nusrat Ghani told the Commons that hitting the 2023 deadline was important.
“Retained EU law was never intended to sit on the statute book indefinitely,” she said.
Speaking during the debate, former Brexit opportunities minister, Jacob Rees-Mogg, claimed the legislation was being “over-interpreted” by critics and called it a “technical, tidying up operation”, reports the Daily Express.