Battle continues over plans to scrap EU environmental laws

EU environmental laws

The battle to keep EU environmental laws in UK will continue after the government halted some of it plans to scrap EU laws.

The UK government has scrapped its plan for thousands of EU-era laws to expire automatically at the end of the year and more than 2,500 EU-derived regulations are set to remain on the UK statute book beyond the end of this year.

However, around 800 other laws, including environmental protection regulations are threatened as the government intends to proceed with plans to scrap some EU environmental laws in 2024. Rules on fisheries and sensitive habitats are among legislation the UK government wants to be discarded.

Industry leaders, MPs, campaign and citizen groups have pledged to maintain pressure on the UK government to both keep, and improve, vital environmental laws.

The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 brought a large number of EU laws and regulation into UK domestic law. This was called Retained EU Law (REUL), and had special status, reflecting the supremacy of EU law, European Court of Justice case law and EU legal principles.

In September 2022, the UK Government introduced the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill to abolish this special status and enable the Government, via Parliament, to amend more easily, repeal and replace REUL.

As the Bill is currently drafted, almost all REUL is automatically revoked at the end of 2023, unless a statutory instrument is passed to preserve it. This is known as a ‘sunset’ provision.

The Government has tabled an amendment for Lords Report, which will replace the current sunset in the Bill with a list of all of the EU laws that it intends to revoke under the Bill at the end of 2023. The remainder will continue in force without the need to pass extra legislation. 

“By making it clear which regulations will be removed from our statute book, businesses and all those affected by these laws will have certainty,” Paul Howell, MP for Sedgefield, said. “The Government will retain the vitally important powers in the Bill that allow it to continue to amend REUL, so more complex regulation can still be revoked or reformed after further assessment and consultation.

“It is my understanding that the Government does not intend to revoke the Water Framework Directive. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been assessing its retained EU law stock to determine what should be preserved as part of domestic law, and what should be repealed, or amended. This work will determine how powers in the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill will be used.

“In regard to Amendments 76, this amendment would impose a novel and untested scrutiny requirement on regulations made. The Government believes that the purpose of this Bill is to ensure that we have the right regulations in place which are right for the whole of the UK.

“I would like to reassure you that the Government will ensure that any significant retained EU law reforms will receive the appropriate level of scrutiny by the relevant legislatures and will be subject to all of the usual processes for consultation and impact assessment.

“However, the Government also believes that it has to ensure that the limited amount of parliamentary time that is available is used most appropriately and most effectively. Requiring that the powers be subject to additional scrutiny is neither appropriate nor necessary in this case.”

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