Retained EU Law Act: what it means

Sets out the risks that the Scottish Government believes are posed by the UK Government’s Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act 2023.


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 Act 2023

The UK Government originally wanted to sweep away all of this retained EU law by the end of 2023. To do so, the UK Government introduced the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill at Westminster on 22 September 2022.

The original Bill sought to repeal or replace upwards of 4,000 articles of REUL. It proposed that most REUL would automatically cease to apply, or “sunset”, unless preserved by legislation made by one of the UK’s four governments before 31 December 2023. The Scottish Government and many others criticised such an approach, as it necessitated a significant effort to first identify all REUL that might disappear at the end of 2023, and then work to preserve it.

The negative backlash to the Bill was wide-ranging, particularly highlighting the significant risks to standards and safety posed by the sudden disappearance of so much law. In May 2023, the UK Government made a major amendment to the Bill, removing the automatic sunset of thousands of pieces of potentially unidentified legislation at the end of 2023, instead presenting a list of REUL to be revoked.

However, powers given to Ministers in this Act mean that important laws that provide protections for the environment, for animal welfare, workers’ rights and food standards are still at risk. 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 Parliament has twice withheld its consent for the Bill.

Convention requires the UK Government to adjust legislation to reflect the will of elected representatives of the devolved parliaments, however the UK Government has now failed to respect the views of the Scottish Parliament on legislative consent on a total of ten occasions since 2018.

About this information

This information refers to scenarios in which REUL is revoked by Ministers using powers given to them in the REUL Act, and would therefore no longer be UK law. Given the complexity of retained EU law in general, we are issuing this to enable stakeholders to understand the real-world implications of REUL being revoked – a risk posed by this UK Government Act.

We have chosen to highlight the Act’s effect on four key policy areas:

More information

Read more about our work in relation to the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill in our policy pages.

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