Or REULRR. Or the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, introduced into Parliament on 22 September 2022. A Bill which I was only vaguely aware of until Nicola Gooch’s excellent blog post What Truss did on my holidays: It’s much more than ‘just’ the mini budget…. (26 September 2022).
As Nicola explains:
“If passed, REULRR will effectively sweep away any and all EU laws that the Government hasn’t actively decided to keep.
It does this by:
- Repealing EU derived laws by the end of 2023. The government will be able to extend that deadline to 23 June 2026 (the tenth anniversary of the Brexit referendum) but can’t further extend it.
- Repealing the principle of supremacy of EU law by the end of 2023. Currently, any EU decision reached before 1 January 2021 is binding on UK courts unless the government departs from it. However, this bill will subjugate all EU law in favour of UK law by default.
- Repealing directly effective EU law rights and obligations in UK law by the end of 2023; and
- Establishing a new priority rule requiring retained direct EU legislation to be interpreted and applied consistently with domestic legislation.”
She discussed this further at our clubhouse Planning Law Unplanned session last week on the Growth Plan, which Sam Stafford has now trimmed neatly into a 50 Shades of Planning podcast:
You will remember that the European Union Withdrawal Act 2018 had the effect of retaining, post Brexit, EU-derived domestic legislation such as the regulations in relation to environmental impact assessment, strategic environmental impact and conservation of habitats, leaving it to Parliament in due course to determine the extent to which the legislation should subsequently be repealed or amended.
As explained in the explanatory notes to the REULRR Bill:
”The REUL [retained EU-derived law] framework established by EUWA, however, was not intended to be maintained indefinitely on the UK statute book and now the Government is in the position to ensure REUL can be revoked, replaced, restated, updated and removed or amended to reduce burdens.”
The Bill now places a firm deadline on that process:
“The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill facilitates the amendment, repeal and replacement of REUL by the end of 2023, and assimilates REUL remaining in force after that date by removing the special EU law features attached to it.”
The end of 2023 deadline can only be extended, to 23 June 2026 “should a lack of parliamentary time, or external factors, hinder progress towards reform of retained EU law prior to the 2023 sunset date.”
Is this of concern?
In short, yes of course. It may be said that the Government is committed to a principle of non-regression from current environmental standards, but given the current political pinball and the lack of relevant ministers with any real experience of the sheer complexity and nuances of what they are dealing with, frankly anything is possible. Campaign groups are certainly on edge: Brexit freedoms bill’ could abolish all pesticide protections, campaigners say (Guardian, 29 September 2022).
To an extent, at a high level, the principle of non-regression is built into the trade and co-operation agreement between the UK and EU which was signed on 30 December 2020 and came into force on 1 May 2021. The UK gave various, at least theoretically, binding commitments in the agreement as to non-regression from environmental levels of protection, which I describe in my 27 December 2020 blog post Brexit & Planning: An Update.
There are also generalised commitments within the Environment Act 2021 (which of course Parliament is always of course at liberty to amend or repeal as it chooses). The Government consulted in May 2022 in relation to its draft environmental principles statement. The statement has not yet been finalised and there is not yet any duty upon ministers to take it into account in their policy making. This may not be until summer 2023 at the earliest! The Office for Environmental Protection (a body established pursuant to the 2021 Act) has criticised the statement for “a relatively limited degree of ambition”. The OEP has similarly criticised as unambitious the Government’s draft environmental targets, also consulted upon pursuant to the 2021 Act.
As against these inchoate commitments to environmental standards, what is going to give in the face of a Government which, according to its Growth Plan, will be “disapplying legacy EU red tape where appropriate” in the investment zones it is proposing, and which proposes a Planning and Infrastructure Bill which will be:
- “reducing the burden of environmental assessments
- reducing bureaucracy in the consultation process
- reforming habitats and species regulations”?
Genuine improvements to the processes are certainly possible. But do we trust the Government to strike an appropriate balance, hurtling towards a self-imposed December 2023 deadline and (at the latest) 2024 general election? In the coming year, most of our environmental legislation, and planning legislation to the extent that it is intertwined, will need to be reviewed, line by line, and, given that most of it is in the form of secondary legislation (and the sheer lack of time – after all the REULRR Bill covers all EU derived legislation!), there will be relatively limited Parliamentary scrutiny of that process. Even with the best of intentions, how is this timescale even going to be possible if we are to avoid a complete bodge-up? We have been treading (often polluted) water for so long and we still have no sense whatsoever of what the long trumpeted “outcomes focused” approach will look like in practice – eg see my 2 April 2022 blog post Is the Nature Recovery Green Paper The Answer? (& If So What Was The Question?)
On a slightly different, although possibly related, note….
At 6 pm on Wednesday 5 October 2022 we will be having a discussion on Clubhouse with barrister Hashi Mohamed, around the themes of his FT article The housing crisis sits at the centre of Britain’s ills (1 October 2022, behind paywall) and his recent book A home of one’s own, a trenchant and personal look at the politics of planning and housing.
Join via this link. If you use the link to RSVP in advance (you don’t have to) you’ll get a reminder when we start – and we can get a feel for likely numbers.
What is needed to calm the nerves all round – on planning, on housing, on environmental protection – is detail. When are we going to get it? HM Treasury announced on 26 September 2022:
“Cabinet Ministers will announce further supply side growth measures in October and early November, including changes to the planning system, business regulations, childcare, immigration, agricultural productivity, and digital infrastructure.”
Always just another month or so to wait, every time.
Simon Ricketts, 1 October 2022
Personal views, et cetera