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Suzanne Townley

News Editor, Solicitors Journal

British Safety Council calls for Retained EU Law Bill to be changed or scrapped

British Safety Council calls for Retained EU Law Bill to be changed or scrapped


The Council fears businesses will face a legal 'black hol'; post-2023

The British Safety Council has called for the government to allow more time for departments to review and decide what to do with the thousands of EU regulations proposed to revocation, revision or retention under the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill. Otherwise, the Council said, businesses will face a legal ‘black hole’.

A Public Bill Committee report is due out tomorrow (22 November) following a recent call for evidence from the government.

The Bill would completely overhaul the body of domestic law known as ‘retained EU law’ or REUL. That body of law was created by the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018 as amended by the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020. It came into existence following the end of the post-Brexit transition period.

The proposals under the Bill would:

  • place a ‘sunset’ on REUL, which means most (though not all) REUL would expire at the end of 2023;
  • enable most REUL (if it takes the form of legislative instruments) to be exempted from the sunset;
  • enable the sunset to be postponed for some (but not all) REUL until as late as 23 June 2026;
  • re-name remaining retained EU law after 2023 as ‘assimilated law’;
  • formally abolish, for wholly domestic law purposes, the principle of supremacy and other general principles of EU law after 2023;
  • enable the effects of supremacy and general principles of EU law to be preserved or recreated in specific cases;
  • give UK courts a new legal framework for reconciliation of inconsistent sources of law when they include those of EU origin, which ministers can influence via statutory instrument;
  • grant a suite of delegated powers to ministers and devolved authorities to revoke, restate, replace or update REUL/assimilated law by statutory instrument;
  • remove or downgrade existing forms of parliamentary scrutiny of statutory instruments when they propose to modify or revoke law of EU origin;
  • expand the permitted use of Legislative Reform Orders so they can revoke retained direct EU legislation;
  • abolish the Business Impact Target in the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015.

The British Safety Council has urged the government “rethink” the 31 December 2023 deadline currently set out in its legislation for all EU regulations to be automatically repealed, unless a minister decides otherwise.

British Safety Council chairman, Peter McGettrick, said: “Having left the European Union, it is right that the UK should set its own laws. But the Government’s Retained EU Law Bill allows too little time for too little scrutiny on changes to regulations which govern our safety, health and wellbeing. It risks opening a legal black hole, which will leave businesses in the dark and expose people to greater risk.

“The Government’s Bill creates huge uncertainty for UK businesses at a time when they already face other significant challenges, including sharply rising costs, a slowing global economy and continuing market turbulence.

“The current timetable on this Bill is unrealistic given the vast amount of work required by Government departments to review and then potentially replace many thousands of pieces of regulation with new secondary legislation.”

The Council said many of the areas covered by the Retained EU Law Bill underpin and define protections, standards, and regulations in workplaces, shops and communities, as well as health and safety.

McGettrick added: “While improvements could no doubt be made to some existing regulations, the sweeping way the Government is going about this risks leaving businesses, workers and the UK public open to future abuse, harm and unreasonable change. British Safety Council does not believe this is acceptable either to people in work or their employers who will have to manage the level of risk this creates for them and their businesses.”

The Council said while UK workers will remain covered by the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, as well as common law, it believes the Bill creates uncertainty as to what will remain in law in relation to employment practice beyond 2023.

McGettrick concluded: “There is a danger of big gaps being created in our regulatory landscape and divergence between businesses selling into Europe, which still need to comply with EU law, and those which do not.

“We also know that regulators are already struggling to fulfil their expanded roles following Brexit, with a lack of resource and recruitment challenges meaning businesses and consumers are already facing increased safety risks.”