17 February 2023
Alan Murray shares an insight into the challenges surrounding the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill.
WITH THE range of fundamental challenges facing the UK currently and the media focussing on headlines with immediate impacts on our society it would only be natural if readers of this column were not familiar with “The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill”, which is currently making its’ way through our parliamentary processes.
Background: Retained EU Law (REUL) is a category of domestic law which was created at the end of the Brexit transition period in order to provide continuity of legislation and regulation, as EU laws ceased to be applicable. Retained EU Laws are made of domestic laws that implemented EU law and certain pieces of direct EU legislation that were cut and pasted and placed onto the UK statute book, following minor amendments to remove and replace some technical references to the EU Commission and EU Member States.
Regardless of one’s opinion on Brexit, it is certainly true that taking the opportunity to review laws, now that we are de-coupled from the EU, is reasonable and could perhaps lead to better rules and better ways of doing things in the future. However, and it is a big however, there are apparently up to 4,000 pieces of legislation within the REUL Bill and currently the requirement is that these laws will be reviewed, reformed or revoked all within 2023 or they will “sunset” at that point. Given the current pressures facing UK PLC, giving priority to this exercise seems bizarre and without any pressing or practical political imperative it is hard to see it as anything other than ideologically driven.
The Retained EU Law Bill spans thousands of legislative areas, including construction, the environment, food safety, occupational health and safety, product safety, including of course Personal Protective Equipment, hazardous substances and chemical safety. The list is enormous, involving many Government Departments and it just does not seem at all possible that this process can be carried out, to any degree, effectively or efficiently within the current timeline. In addition this rushed and chaotic process brings the potential but significant risk that good regulations are replaced by inferior ones.
These are not just my opinions but widely held concerns across stakeholders in our industry and beyond. And while the Bill is progressing through parliament we call on the Government to listen to common sense. To that end, in November 2022 BSIF joined with the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) where we urged the government to review the Bill timetable and abandon the concept of an arbitrary sunset date all together.
Adding to the momentum of lobbying on this, at the end of January 2023, BSIF joined with leading stakeholders from the safety, health and environmental arena to communicate directly with Grant Shapps, the Secretary of State at the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) who hold responsibility for many of the relevant laws. Of course there has been a reshuffling (of the deck chairs) and BEIS no longer exists, now replaced by the Department for Business and Trade (BaT) with Kemi Badenoch taking over from Grant Shapps who is now in charge of the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero.
The stakeholder group, including RoSPA, IOSH, BOHS, BSC, IIRSM, NEBOSH, CIEH and BSIF are clear in our opinion that this Bill could indeed be an opportunity to improve safety and health legislation but it must be a through a proper consultative process carried out over a reasonable time period.
The group’s position is that Britain has a long standing record as a global leader in Safety and Health but that could be destroyed and people put at risk, due to the undue and unnecessary sunset date. We collectively appreciate the need for continuous improvement and how regular review can indeed build better frameworks and so be a positive move but, better regulation is not simply de-regulation. This rush to implement the Bill as it stands will undermine our health and safety standards and protections many of which were indeed originally led by the UK and later adopted by the EU. We would hope that a more sensible timetable on the Bill emerges but at this stage we cannot assume that will happen and therefore we will continue to make the case for open dialogue and discussion, spread over a reasonable timeframe.
In other (related) news the Department, formerly known as BEIS, have been seeking to publish a “consultation” on the Product Safety Review. This consultation will seek feedback and opinions on policy proposals around regulation controlling the placing of product on the market. The original call for evidence produced consistent feedback on the (avoidance of) responsibilities of on-line selling and a general lack of market surveillance. It is hoped that the consultation process when it is eventually launched will include practical proposals to counter those economic operators who ignore, with impunity, their regulatory responsibilities. We shall see when the consultation is eventually published.
The reason that the consultation is late being published is believed to be as a result of the political instability from mid-2022 until now. The consultation was at the point of ministerial sign-off in July but the minister responsible was moved during the of Boris Johnson’s resignation and there has never been a settled picture at BEIS since then as we see above.
With the political instability and the societal challenges of inflation and the economy it really does call into question the wisdom of prioritising an over hasty review of thousands of pieces of legislation apparently motivated because they “originated” as EU regulations.