The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill is controversial for many reasons – not least the sweeping powers it grants the executive to change a swathe of laws. Lisa James and Alan Renwick discuss recent Constitution Unit survey results, which suggest that members of the public instinctively favour a central role for parliament in law making.
The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill – or REUL Bill – is a complex and controversial piece of legislation. Its focus is the law which arose from the UK’s membership of the European Union. This ‘retained EU law’ is significant in both scale and scope: the government currently lists over 3700 pieces of such legislation, much of it implementing regulatory regimes across a number of major policy domains. Areas such as environmental protection, consumer rights and employment law are particularly affected.
The REUL Bill would automatically repeal most retained EU law at the end of 2023, and make it much easier for ministers to amend or replace. This approach has proved controversial in a number of ways. Business groups have raised concerns that previously settled areas of law could be disrupted at short notice, creating legal uncertainty. Environmental groups and trade unions, among others, have raised concerns about rights protections being lost. And some have questioned whether Whitehall really has the capacity to conduct a thorough and careful review of such a huge body of law by the end of the year.
Alongside this, experts have warned that the bill as currently drafted would greatly empower the government at the expense of parliament, handing ministers sweeping powers to decide what law is repealed or preserved, and how it is amended. Such process-related concerns – regarding how legal change is enacted – are sometimes considered of interest only to experts. But recent Constitution Unit research shows that the public have clear instincts on how such processes should work – and express widespread support for parliament’s role in law-making.
The REUL Bill and parliamentary scrutiny
As currently drafted, the bill places significant powers and discretion in the hands of ministers. If passed in its current form, the clock would begin ticking on the sunset clause which would repeal most retained EU law at the end of 2023; from this point, parliament would have little say over what happens to retained EU law.Continue reading