About retained EU law
Over the nearly 50 years of its membership of the European Union, the UK was subject to a wide range of European laws agreed between the EU member states including the UK.
Those laws cover a wide range of things including competition rules, workers’ rights, environmental protection and food standards. Having a common set of laws underpinned fair competition within the European Single Market and drove up standards across the EU.
If the UK had simply let all this law lapse when it left the EU the result would have been chaos, with massive uncertainty for businesses and consumers. Therefore in 2018, the UK Parliament passed the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 which in effect ‘copied’ almost all EU law and ‘pasted’ it into UK law. The plan was for the laws to continue in practice until they were changed by domestic legislation (either by the UK’s four parliaments – including the Scottish Parliament and Westminster – or by one of the UK’s governments using its powers to make regulations or orders.)
This body of law – thousands of pieces of legislation – is now known as “retained EU law” (REUL).
About the Retained EU Law Bill
The UK Government now wants to sweep away all of this retained EU law by the end of next year. To do so, the UK Government introduced the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill at Westminster on 22 September 2022.
The Bill is currently being considered by the House of Commons and, if agreed by MPs, will be considered in the House of Lords. The House of Commons will then be asked to agree with any changes, or amendments, made by the House of Lords. Once both Houses agree, the Bill will receive Royal Assent and become law.
The Bill seeks to repeal or replace an estimated 3,800 articles of REUL. It proposes that most REUL will automatically cease to apply or will be “sunset” unless preserved by legislation made by one of the UK’s four governments before 31 December 2023 (with a possible extension to 23 June 2026 at the UK Government’s discretion).
The Bill as introduced would give Ministers powers to preserve REUL together with powers to repeal or replace with other laws as they "consider appropriate”. While these powers could mitigate the dangers of the Bill, the fact that Ministers have these powers, rather than Parliament, sidelines democratic parliamentary scrutiny. If Ministers do nothing, such an arbitrary and rushed “sunset” date poses the real risk that vital law could simply disappear overnight.
The laws at risk are important and provide protections for the environment, for animal welfare, workers’ rights and food standards. They are also significant for businesses and industry, providing the stability and certainty needed to plan and trade effectively in international markets.
Due to these potential implications, the Scottish Government has recommended that the Scottish Parliament withholds its consent for the Bill.
Convention requires the UK Government to adjust legislation to reflect the will of elected representatives of the devolved parliaments, although this has been overridden six times since the UK left the European Union.
About this information
This information refers to scenarios in which REUL will “sunset” at the end of 2023, and no longer be UK law. This is the default scenario presented by the Bill unless Ministers take action. Given the complexity of retained EU law in general, we are issuing this to enable stakeholders to understand the real-world implications of vast amounts of REUL being “sunset” at the end of 2023 – a risk posed by this UK Government Bill.
We have chosen to highlight the Bill’s effect on four key policy areas:
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