You might have already read or heard my thoughts about the Retained EU Law (REUL) Bill, which is making its way through parliament. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a piece of Brexit legislation that aims to bring into UK law regulation that has its origin in European law. While it’s seen as a crucial step by those who want a stricter interpretation of ‘Brexit’, the bill as originally set out had huge and manifest problems.
First of all, REUL covers a vast amount of legislation – the current count is that it affects approximately 5,000 laws, and (terrifyingly), nobody seems to know exactly how many. It includes such critical and effective regulations as the Control of Asbestos Regulations.
The biggest issue with this is that the bill contains a sunset clause, which would essentially provide that, unless an individual piece of law is ported over to UK law or re-written (a mammoth task), then it will disappear at the end of the year. If this clause survives unchanged, the prospect of accidentally losing vital legal mechanisms is very, very real.
So it was some comfort when I came across a fantastic article published by the Institute for Government last month, which brought to my attention the significance beyond the headlines of a statement by Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch.
There seems to have been an outbreak of sense in the approach to the REUL, inasmuch as Rishi Sunak and Kemi Badenoch “have agreed to ditch the sunset from the bill and instead provide parliament with a list of all REUL the government intends to repeal.” It will now be these selected laws that disappear automatically at the end of the year, rather than all EU based laws.
It will still be a mammoth task for legislators to unpick the long list of regs that are disappearing – but at least the immediate risk of oversights and mistakes, has gone away.
As the Institute for Government article also recognises, the wording of Badenoch’s statement, suggesting a much more sensible approach to regulatory reform. Words such as “proper assessment and consultation” make a welcome appearance, for example.
However, a concerning element of the amended REUL is that in the original legislation, only the Supreme Court could depart from established EU case law, but the bill now effectively opens the way for any court to do it. That leaves a legal avenue for anyone who did not like a decision under EU law. The government is also giving itself a permanent power to amend REUL under the bill, without any additional commitment to consultation or proper parliamentary scrutiny.
In this matter, the House of Lords has done a great service to the country, forcing the government to address the unrealism and risks of its self-imposed deadline. But there are still big question marks over the amended approach – and more work to be done.
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