On 22 September 2022, the UK Government introduced the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill to Parliament. The Government has nicknamed their bill the ‘Brexit Freedoms Bill’. They’re hoping it will cut bureaucracy and allow the UK to autonomously develop a simpler new regulatory environment for areas of life and business currently tied up in EU law.
What is the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill?
Retained EU law is EU-derived law that became part of the UK’s domestic law on 31 December 2020, following the Brexit transition period.
If it successfully passes through Parliament, the Retained EU Law bill will bring a ‘sunset’ of most retained EU law that is still applicable in the UK on 31 December 2023. This means that any of the approximately 2,400 pieces of retained EU law that haven’t been explicitly selected to be kept will be abolished. The Government intends to individually review every one of these laws to decide which should be retained or modified. However, the volume of laws requiring review is massive and it seems likely that the sunset date could be pushed out – perhaps until 23 June 2026, an option offered by the bill.
The hurried nature of the initiative and the Government’s eagerness to move the UK away from EU law have many worried that important laws may be lost if the bill is passed. These laws cover various practice areas, examples of which include:
Lots of the UK’s employment law, especially that related to equality and fair treatment of employees, is derived from EU law. Employment laws at risk include (but are not limited to):
- the 48-hour work week – the Working Time Regulations 1998 require that staff generally do not work more than 48 hours per week unless they have formally opted out of this protection
- TUPE – the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (‘TUPE’) apply when an employee is transferred to a new employer because, for example, their organisation or the services contract they work under has been transferred to a different business (ie the new employer). A TUPE transfer protects employees’ rights by, for example, preserving their conditions of employment such as contractual bonuses and pay provisions
- treatment of part-time workers – the Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000 require that part-time workers are not treated less favourably than equivalent full-time workers (eg in terms of pay, leave, and career development)
If these laws are revoked, or kept in a diluted form, many employees will be exposed to the risk of less favourable treatment by their employers.
Employers should be aware that these changes may occur as soon as 2023. In some situations, it may be prudent to negotiate with employees to create contractual protection for the employment rights currently protected by retained EU law. Doing so may help reassure staff members that you intend to continue treating them fairly and equally even if some legal requirements to do so are stripped away. Such reassurances could be a valuable contributor to workforce retention in a turbulent employment market.
Hundreds of environmental regulations fall within the bill’s scope. For example, the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 could be revoked. If not replaced by an adequate alternative, this would remove the wildlife protection requirements that these Regulations impose on the UK.
Various Regulations that impose ecodesign requirements are also at risk. These Regulations require that manufacturers and importers of energy-related products conform to certain standards (eg energy efficiency standards).
The erosion of environmental protection laws is an issue for everybody – if diluted environmental protection rules lead to poorer performance on sustainability and consequential environmental degradation, the loss of these laws affects us all.
Product and service safety
Various EU laws set safety and quality standards that products sold in the UK must live up to. For example:
- Regulation (EC) No 1223/2009 on Cosmetic Products, which prohibits cosmetic products from containing certain products identified as carcinogenic
- Various aviation safety laws, for example, those contained in the Air Navigation (General) Regulations 2006. These set requirements on, for example, aircraft weight and performance
Revoking these laws puts consumers at risk of harm caused by (practically, even if not legally) substandard products that may enter the market.
Moreover, if the UK loses some of the laws that contribute to a uniform regulatory environment for product and service safety, businesses may be left with less certainty regarding what they need to do to ensure consumers’ safety. Firms may be left overspending to err on the side of caution or they may fall short and be exposed to the risk of litigation if unsafe products cause consumers harm.
The bill was introduced under Liz Truss. The vast amount of resources required to evaluate the UK’s raft of retained EU law by 2023 has since been pointed out. So has the danger of important laws, like those outlined above, being removed without adequate replacements having been created. It’s been reported that new PM Rishi Sunak is considering deprioritising the bill and slowing down the sunsetting process. This seems prudent. Removing hundreds of laws at once for the sake of demonstrating a commitment to Brexit, especially when Parliament is at liberty to legislate to change any of these laws anyway, could pose an unnecessary risk to the UK’s employers and employees, consumers, and citizens.
What does the bill mean for employers and business owners?
It remains to be seen how this bill will progress. It may be passed into law with many differences, perhaps in a long time from now. It may never become law at all. Being aware of potential issues the bill poses, however, could prepare business owners and employers to react to these issues in future. For more information on the retained EU laws covered by the bill, see the Government’s tracker. You can Ask a lawyer if you have any questions about complying with the areas of law discussed above.