The Civil Society Alliance, an alliance of civil society organisations from across the UK, has today published an open letter to the Business Secretary, Kemi Badenoch. We are asking the government to think again about the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill (also referred to as ‘the bill’, or REUL).
This open letter is the latest in a series of civil society calls for the bill to be reconsidered. Signed by over 50 civil society organisations across the country, it is timed to coincide with the voting on amendments in the House of Lords today.
Civil Society Alliance
The Civil Society Alliance is a coalition of civil society organisations from across the UK established to scrutinise and influence constitutional, administrative, and legal changes in the complex, multidimensional regulatory landscape following the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.
The aims of the Civil Society Alliance are:
- Open and accountable law-making
- A high standards UK
- A strong, active civil society voice
With respect to REUL, the Civil Society Alliance calls on the government to demonstrate its commitment to transparency and a high standards UK by:
- Publishing details of further aspects of REUL that it does not intend to retain, together with the rationale for this decision-making.
- Ensuring the civil society voice is heard through meaningful consultation on the impact of proposed changes on individuals and communities.
- Scrapping the provisions in the bill that prevent standards or regulations being raised in the future.
- Respecting the rights of devolved governments to make their own decisions.
‘Retained EU law’ is a concept contained in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. This took a ‘snapshot’ of EU law applying to the UK at the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December 2020, and established that it would continue to apply within UK domestic law.
However, the UK government states that “retained EU law was never intended to sit on the statute book indefinitely”, and those most committed to Brexit wish to see any vestige of EU law removed domestically. The government has already revoked or reformed over 1,000 EU laws. A ‘sunset clause’ was to end the status of retained EU law from 31 December 2023, but this plan has now been dropped by the government.
Rosalind Stevens from the Civil Society Alliance says: “The 2019 Conservative Party manifesto outlined a vision for a ‘high standards’ UK for workers, consumers, and the environment. Clause 16.5 of the REUL bill appears to contradict this commitment by precluding any changes to raise standards where these would ‘increase the regulatory burden’.”
“The bill takes an extremely broad interpretation of ‘burden’, adopting a non-exhaustive definition which includes a ‘financial cost’, ‘obstacle to innovation’, or even an ‘administrative inconvenience’. There is also no requirement placed on UK ministers to seek devolved consent when exercising the wide-ranging regulatory powers in the bill.”
REUL impacts in Wales
Charles Whitmore from the Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA) and Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre says: “While the recent removal of the main sunset clause has eliminated some risk, the bill will still provide alarmingly broad powers to the Welsh and UK Governments to make legislative changes with minimal scrutiny.”
“It is unclear whether these powers will be used to introduce recently announced changes to workers’ rights and indeed how civil society will be consulted on these and other uses of the bill’s provisions. The Senedd will also be placed under significant pressure to meet the new 31 October deadline in the bill to scrutinise the list of instruments put forward by the UK Government for removal in 2023.”
Whitmore adds: “By failing to define any screening process for legislation that is set to be removed, the bill also creates the possibility that legislation critical to the fulfilment of the UK government’s Article 2 human rights commitments in the Windsor Framework could be lost.”
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