A Bill’s fate is never sealed until it has been through all the necessary approval stages and the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill is no exception.
Whilst numerous concerns have been raised about the speed and impact of the Bill, there were comparatively few amendments made to it as it sped through the Commons. It has, however, taken a completely different course as it has made its way through the Lords, with many of the original features of the Bill now being thrown on the metaphoric bonfire.
Calling on government departments to catalogue, review and make decisions about nearly 5,000 pieces of legislation before 31 December 2023 was a tall order. However, it now looks as if we are likely to see only a fraction of that number revoked as part of a smaller and more manageable schedule of retained EU laws which will be the immediate subject of the Bill.
The current proposals at a glance:
- The sunset date is disappearing into the (ahem) sunset – the 31 December 2023 sunset date was seen as a steep cliff edge, when thousands of pieces of retained EU law would suddenly be revoked, without any further action being required. The risk of this was that laws would be overlooked or gaps would be left if new methods of plugging them had not been identified or actioned. Now the sunset date has a different emphasis as explained below.
- An exhaustive list of retained EU laws will be tackled – rather than all retained EU law disappearing, a schedule of specific laws has been identified and those laws will be revoked by 31 December 2023. The list is currently running to just under 600 pieces of legislation (see Schedule of retained EU law - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)), with many of them being categorised as ‘redundant’ or which relate to matters which are ‘no longer in operation’. This therefore means that the focus is on laws where revocation is unlikely to have a significant impact.
- This won’t be the end of retained EU law reform – we may not be having the anticipated ‘bonfire’ on the sunset date but retained EU laws are likely to be tackled in due course through reform powers introduced by the Bill. The difference is that more time is likely to be taken to identify and address the full suite. In fact, the government has already said:
“In addition to the list of around 600 we propose to revoke directly through the schedule to the REUL Bill, the Financial Services and Markets Bill and the Procurement Bill will revoke around a further 500 pieces of REUL”
demonstrating a desire to reform laws which are perceived to have originated from the UK’s membership of the EU. The question still remains as to what level of Parliamentary oversight will be given to any retained EU law that is proposed to be revoked going forward as this is still a live issue between the Lords and the Commons.
We will continue to monitor progress of the Bill as it develops. It is currently at a so-called ping pong stage as it is passing between the Commons and the Lords whilst each House considers in turn the other’s amendments and either approves, rejects or proposes their own amendments to them. Dare we say that it feels as if the Bill is getting closer to being in an approved form by the Houses, given there appears to be an appetite to ensure that there is at least something to put on the (significantly smaller) fire by the end of the year.
- Schedule of retained EU law - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)