Updated Jul 5, 2023

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Retained EU Law Act finally gets Royal Assent

The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act 2023 (REUL Act), finally gained Royal Assent on 29 June 2023 after a bumpy passage through Parliament.

Initially the Bill made provisions that would mean all law derived from the UK’s 40-year membership of the European Union had to be reviewed and either transferred into UK law or scrapped by the end of 2023. This sunset date of 31 December 2023 proved to be highly contentious, with many concerned that this short time frame would lead to many workers rights and environmental protections disappearing off the UK statute book at the end of the year.

Since then the Bill has been amended various times in a back and forth between the Commons and House of Lords, with the divisive sunset clause being scrapped, and it has now become law.

Why is the Act needed?

When the UK withdrew from the EU, it retained the majority of EU laws that directly applied. This includes EU Regulations and Decisions.

Retaining the law means that all Retained EU laws are now part of UK domestic legislation. However, having mapped where Retained EU law sits on the statute book, the Government believes that the special status given to Retained law makes it harder to amend, repeal or replace.

Retained EU Law is a category of domestic law created at the end of the Brexit transition period and consists of EU-derived legislation that was preserved in our domestic legal framework by the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.

According to the Government, it was never intended to sit on the statute book indefinitely.

Since September 2021, there have been a series of reviews into the substance and status of retained EU law, which lead to the Retained EU Dashboard - a catalogue of thousands of pieces of retained law across 300 policy areas and 21 sectors of the economy.

The REUL Bill was the result of those reviews.

What does the REUL Act do?

The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act 2023:

  • provides a finite list of any UK legislation derived from EU law and Retained Direct EU legislation which will be revoked on the sunset date of 31 December 2023. Instead of all EU-based laws being automatically deleted at the end of the year, unless retained, only specific pieces of legislation marked for deletion in the Full Text of Schedule 1 to the REUL Act 2023 will be revoked;
  • ends the supremacy of EU law on 31 December 2023, and removes all directly effective EU rights on that date too;
  • gives government ministers new powers to reform EU-based laws;
  • encourages the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court to make more use of their existing powers to overturn EU-based caselaw;
  • introduces a new process which enables a lower court which is bound by EU-based caselaw to refer a point of law to the Court of Appeal or Supreme Court so they can decide if it should be overruled;
  • gives the Attorney General the power to intervene in cases where the courts are considering overruling EU-based caselaw and even make references to higher courts if the lower court hasn’t done so;
  • reclassifies all EU-based laws that have been retained by the UK, they will be known as 'assimilated laws';
  • requires the government to update its Retained EU Dashboardand report to Parliament on its progress with revoking and reforming retained EU law and future plans.

Assimilated law

Any retained EU law that is preserved after the sunset date of 31 December 2023 will become "assimilated law".

This essentially removes any link back to the EU, and provisions exist in the REUL Act 2023 to rename such assimilated law accordingly.

Measures are also proposed to provide domestic courts with greater discretion to depart from legal precedent set by EU retained case law, and again to rename it.

Downgrading of retained EU Law

The REUL Act 2023 will downgrade the status of retained direct EU legislation, to make sure domestic legislation has priority over any former EU legislation. Various powers will be amended in other legislation, so retained legislation can be amended in the same way as domestic legislation.

Powers are also established to make secondary legislation so that retained EU law can be amended, repealed and replaced more easily.

For more information, see the:

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