The Retained EU Law (REUL) Bill has now secured parliamentary approval – this update is to explain what this means and what the Labour Movement for Europe will do next
What was the Retained EU Law Bill?
Following Brexit, there is a body of UK law that has remained on our statute book which originated in our membership of the European Union. As such it required review to ensure it remains legally stable. In its original form the REUL Bill as drafted by Jacob Rees Mogg intended to deal with this question by deleting all these laws from the UK statute book by the end of 2023 and giving Government ministers the direct power to write any replacements – or simply remove them from the UK statute book altogether- without having to consult Parliament.
Retained EU Law amounts to over 4000 pieces of legislation- throughout the course of 2022, civil servants have struggled to identify all the legislation which fitted this description and there is still to date not a complete list of all laws affected by this proposal. The laws due to be deleted covered many issues from our key environmental protections for water quality or habitats or airline safety regulations to your workplace rights such as maternity rights and paid holiday and your consumer rights including to compensation when flights or trains are delayed. As the scope of the Bill was so broad, there was a very real risk important protections UK citizens rely on would be accidentally lost by this ‘sunset’ on their status because they had not been identified as affected.
Under the previous plans, all laws would be abolished at the end of 2023. Therefore the only way any of these laws could be retained was if a Minister of the Government specifically picked out that piece of legislation and retained it. Thus, if the Government didn’t approve of a law they would not have to abolish it, but simply let it fall at the end of 2023. The Bill also required that any replacement regulation could not “increase the burden” of current regulations. That means on all the areas of public policy covered by the Bill, any replacement legislation tabled by Ministers can only either retained existing standards or water them down.
Under these proposals any changes to laws, including whether to retain them at all, would be done by using a parliamentary procedure called a Statutory Instrument Committee. This is a small handpicked group of MPs who can only vote either to accept or reject a law change- risking no law at all if they reject the Governments proposals. At best, the current process for Statutory Instruments gives Parliament a choice between approving a Government proposal, or rejecting it outright. In practice, this means that Statutory Instruments are not rejected by Parliament, with the last such example in the House of Commons being in 1979.
According to the Hansard Society, just sixteen SIs out of over 169,000 (0.01%) have been rejected since 1950 at all —eleven by the House of Commons and five by the House of Lords. Democracy requires citizens to be able to make representations to those who they can hold directly to account on the matters that concern them- this Bill therefore represents an unprecedented power grab by Ministers under the cover of Brexit.
What did the LME do?
Working with dozens of other organisations across every sector including the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC), Trade Union Congress, the Women’s institute and Greener UK over 150,000 emails were sent to MPs by constituents raising their concerns on the REUL Bill. In addition, we worked together to secure media coverage to keep attention on this Bill as it passed through the House of Commons and House of Lords.
In particular, the LME worked with the House of Lords and several conservative MPs on a number of amendments to this Bill to change the process it set out. These included changes to require the Government to define what laws would be affected, a removal of the ‘sunset’ clause and the ability of MPs to table amendments to the proposals covered by this Bill. The Government has also changed, with a new Secretary of State Kemi Badenoch taking over the Bill from Jacob Rees- Mogg and willing to reduce the threat of the sunset clause.
As a result the Government has now been forced to provide a list of the laws that they intend to delete, dramatically reducing those affected to 600 rather than 4,000. This list process also means that Government Ministers can be questioned on any decisions and held to account for the impact of changes before they occur. Whilst MPs rejected attempts by the Lords to introduce a process whereby they could directly write amendments to the laws being affected, the Government had to pledge not to remove key protections, including on the environment and on pensions, as a result of this campaigning.
The LME will continue to monitor the actions of the Government and the use of the powers this legislation has granted Ministers. In the coming months we will publish further updates and analysis as to any laws which may be deleted, or amended, and the consequences for UK citizens.
Thank you to all the members and supporters who helped this campaign and joined us challenging this legislation.