A recent FOI response proves that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has not published any impact assessments on scrapping and reforming EU laws under the proposed Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill. This Bill will affect approximately 3800 EU laws on the statute book, including the extra 1400 newly identified EU laws by the Government according to recent news reports. This Bill contains a sunset clause that ensures EU laws expire automatically on 31 December 2023 unless a Minister decides to save them.
On 30 October 2022, I asked BEIS for impact assessments of keeping, reforming and scrapping EU laws. In my FOI email to BEIS, I wrote:
“The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill proposes to scrap or reform all EU laws and regulations and contains a sunset clause where all EU laws and regulations automatically expire on 31 December 2023 – unless Ministers actively decide to save specific regulations before the cut-off date.
Can you please provide me with documentation about the impact assessments you have done on the effects of keeping, reforming and scrapping these laws and regulations.”
On 11 November, I got a reply from BEIS, which you can see here:
BEIS have said that they have withheld information about the impact assessments because they intend to publish this information in the future on their website. They did not tell me when it will be published.
BEIS acknowledged that “there is a general public interest in releasing information about the impact assessment for the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill as this leads to greater transparency and accountability in how the government changes regulations and laws”.
BEIS continues, “However, given the necessary preparation and administration involved in publishing the information, we consider that the best use of public resources would be directed to pulling this information together, ensuring the information is accurate and published in a consistent and comprehensive format, rather than in a piecemeal fashion.”. They are withholding the information until it is ready for publication.
Leading Ministers, including the current PM Rishi Sunak and former Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg, expressed their commitment to scrapping or reforming hundreds of EU laws. Why didn’t Ministers do a full impact assessment of this policy before proceeding with it? We are entitled to know the consequences of this policy before Ministers go ahead with it.
This Bill gives Ministers dictatorial powers to keep, amend and scrap EU laws and regulations without proper parliamentary scrutiny. They have not revealed which ones they want to keep, which ones they want to amend, and which ones they want to repeal. For the laws and regulations that Ministers want to amend, it is not clear what will replace them or what changes they plan to make to them.
So far, we have been kept in the dark about Ministers’ intentions. And so has Parliament. Their intentions are unclear. However, it is clear that if nothing is done to save them, they will automatically be revoked on 31 December 2023. Such regulations are now being treated by default as undesirable only because they are associated with the EU and for no other reason.
BEIS are also using Section 35(1)(a) to withhold this information. In their FOI response, they write “Section 35(1)(a) exempts information from being released if it relates to the formulation or development of government policy. The information you have requested relates to the formulation and development of policy regarding the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill.”. Government Ministers have already decided to proceed with this Bill but have kept us in the dark about the impacts of scrapping and reforming thousands of EU laws and regulations. The impact assessments will presumably inform Ministers’ decisions about what to keep, what to reform and what to repeal. We are entitled to know the basis for making these decisions. It is outrageous that the consequences of these dictatorial ministerial powers are being kept secret from us. We are entitled to know how it will affect British citizens and important stakeholders.
The removal and amendment of EU laws and regulations will increase trade barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. NI is governed by the Northern Ireland Protocol, which ensures that they will all still apply to NI even if they no longer apply to GB. This will undermine NI’s place in the UK and alienate the unionists. It could increase demands for a border poll on a united Ireland. The Stormont Assembly has been without a functioning executive for many months because the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has refused to enter a power-sharing executive with Sinn Fein. They are boycotting the Assembly in protest at the NI Protocol and are demanding changes to it. This Bill is bound to make this situation worse.
The automatic expiry of EU laws and regulations under the sunset clause could potentially breach the level playing-field (LPF) provisions of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) (e.g., see https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-9190/). This could lead to retaliation by the EU (i.e., a trade war) or, in the worst-case scenario, the suspension of the TCA, leading to a no-deal Brexit.
This Bill could have serious consequences for the status of Northern Ireland, the future of the union and the UK’s relationship with the EU. Swathes of health and safety, employment, environmental, and consumer protections and food standards, among other important rights and protections, could disappear, even by accident.
The wildly unrealistic self-imposed deadline of 31 December 2023 will be far too short to for proper reviews, debates and consultation of relevant stakeholders and implementation of well-designed amendments and replacements for EU laws. It will create a huge amount of uncertainty, chaos, a bureaucratic nightmare for both business and the civil service and risks of unintended consequences.
It is outrageous that the Government has not published any impact assessments for all the affected EU legislation on the statute book before deciding to proceed with a Bill that automatically revokes thousands of laws at the end of next year.