Updated Apr 12, 2023

Government climbing down over Bill to scrap EU law

The Government is seemingly backtracking on their plans to scrap thousands of EU laws by the end of this year, after concerns that Tory Peers will join a mass cross-party revolt in the House of Lords.

The Report stage of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, which was planned for just after Easter, has been dropped from the Lords calendar. Suggestions for the reasons behind this are to prevent a row in the build-up to local elections in May and to allow for more time to consider a list of concessions.

No new dates have been proposed for the Report stage, and its entirely possible that the controversial Bill could be delayed by months, and possibly beyond the next general election.

The aim of the Bill is to enable retained EU law to be replaced with new domestic legislation more easily. Under it, all law derived from the UK’s 40-year membership of the European Union must be reviewed and either transferred into UK law or scrapped by the end of 2023, unless ministers decided that there should be exemptions. One of the main complaints of the Bill is that the decision on which laws should be scrapped is removed from both houses of Parliament, and instead falls on ministers and civil servants.

United opposition

A group of Peers from across all parties have been discussing potential amendments to the Bill for some time now, and the issues have united both pro-Brexit supporters and leading remainers, with one calling it a "constitutional monstrosity". There are currently 48 amendments to the Bill tabled by the Lords.

David Hope, a former deputy president of the UK supreme court who sits as a crossbencher and has tabled a series of amendments, told the Observer he was not interested in scoring political points, or arguments involving Brexit versus remain, but was acting for the good of the country.

"I do not have a political agenda with regard to this Bill, but my general concern is with the accuracy and workability of legislation, and the way this Bill is currently framed it is not capable of doing the job it is designed to do"

From the announcement of the Bill back in September last year, there were concerns over how much civil service time it would eat up, and more recently there are fears it could complicate the recently signed Windsor Framework deal with Brussels on the operation of the Northern Ireland Protocol. Something senior figures in Brussels have expressed concerns over, saying that if environmental and other standards are allowed to fall in the UK, this could seriously undermine the UK’s post-Brexit trade deal with the EU and potentially lead to a trade war.

Possible future of the Bill

With the Bill's original champion Jacob Rees-Mogg no longer holding a Government position following the scrapping of the Minister of State for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency, the responsibility now lies with Kemi Badenoch, the Business and Trade Secretary. 

One idea believed to be under consideration, is for a list of redundant EU laws to be announced that could easily be abolished without controversy. A symbolic move, that cynics might suggest is designed to prove that the Government are delivering on Brexit.

Another possibility is to extend the "sunset clause" under which laws will cease to apply by at least another year. This would likely take the Bill beyond the date of the next general election, meaning it would in effect never come into force.

There is a strong suggestion from within the civil service that most of the EU laws the Bill applies to would be retained anyway, something that would frustrate hardline Tory Brexiters.

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