So now we have, without any great surprises, what was first to be the Great Repeal Bill, then the Repeal Bill and now is the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. It comes alongside extensive Explanatory Notes as well as a Memorandum justifying the use of delegated powers in the Bill .
This is a very narrowly defined blog post, asking myself one question: What does the Bill tell us in England about what will happen to EU law based legislation such as the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2017 once we reach the “exit date” (defined in the Bill as a date to be appointed by a minister but in practice to be 29 March 2019 or earlier, due to service by the Government of its Article 50 notice on 29 March 2017)? I have confined myself to England: there are additional complexities ahead for the devolved administrations.
The EIA Regulations are EU-derived domestic legislation, as defined in the Bill, deriving as they do from the EIA Directive ie Directive 2011/92/EU as amended in 2014 by Directive 2014/52/EU.
Clause 2(1) of the Bill provides:
“EU-derived domestic legislation, as it has effect in domestic law immediately before exit day, continues to have effect in domestic law on and after exit day. ”
So the Regulations will remain in force unchanged post exit day.
For the avoidance of doubt clause 5(1) provides:
“The principle of the supremacy of EU law does not apply to any enactment or rule of law passed or made on or after exit day.”
So any change to environmental protection that is made following exit date cannot be challenged on the basis that it is contrary to EU law. Legislation excluding say the construction of a specific infrastructure project or type of infrastructure from EIA, or weakening its operation? There would no longer be any recourse to the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU). But that would be the effect of leaving the EU in any event, so hardly needs to be spelt out.
(Of course, the Government will need to ensure that any such legislation did not breach other international obligations such as the Espoo Convention and Aarhus Convention – where breaches are far more difficult to challenge by a complainant, whether in the domestic courts or in any international forum)
At present, in interpreting EU-derived legislation, our domestic courts have to apply EU law principles, having regard to decisions of the CJEU. After exit day, this will no longer be the case, in that there will be no requirement to have regard to post exit day decisions. Clause 6(1) provides:
“A court or tribunal
(a) is not bound by any principles laid down, or any decisions made, on or after exit day by the European Court, and
(b) cannot refer any matter to the European Court on or after exit day. ”
Clause 6(2) makes it clear that a court may do “if it considers it appropriate to do so” but does not have to. So, (1) there will be uncertainty as to whether to bring post exit day CJEU rulings or advocate-general opinions before the domestic court to assist with interpretation (and so in practice they will be trawled out) and (2) CJEU jurisprudence is likely slowly to take a different direction to that of our domestic courts. Not straight-forward!
For a period from the coming into law of the Bill and two years after exit day, the Government will be going through all EU-law derived legislation, with the objective of making it continue to work post Brexit. Clause 7(1) provides:
“A Minister of the Crown may by regulations make such provision as the Minister considers appropriate to prevent, remedy or mitigate—
(a) any failure of retained EU law to operate effectively, or
(b) any other deficiency in retained EU law,
arising from the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU. “
The justification in the accompanying memorandum: “Retained EU law will contain thousands of failures and deficiencies. This power enables UK ministers and the devolved authorities to make corrections in time for exit to ensure a functioning statute book. ”
Clause 7(6) contains some protections:
“But regulations under this section may not—
(a) impose or increase taxation,
(b) make retrospective provision,
(c) create a relevant criminal offence,
(d) be made to implement the withdrawal agreement,
(e) amend, repeal or revoke the Human Rights Act 1998 or any subordinate legislation made under it, or
(f) amend or repeal the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (unless the regulations are made by virtue of paragraph 13(b) of Schedule 7 to this Act or are amending or repealing paragraph 38 of Schedule 3 to the Northern Ireland Act 1998 or any provision of that Act which modifies another enactment). “
The memorandum says this by way of example: “The impact of not making such changes would include inadvertently removing environmental protections. The Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2017 require an environmental impact assessment of certain applications for planning permission. They refer to “other EEA States” in a number of places, mainly in the context of development likely to have significant transboundary environmental effects. A correction amending the references to “other EEA States” to “EEA States”, would make it clear that the requirement on transboundary consultation continues to function on exit as it does now. This would remove uncertainty and help ensure that an important piece of environmental protection law continues to operate effectively. “
I referred to obligations arising under other international obligations. Clause 8(1) provides:
“A Minister of the Crown may by regulations make such provision as the Minister considers appropriate to prevent or remedy any breach, arising from the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU, of the international obligations of the United Kingdom.”
The memorandum more generally seeks to justify the breadth of use of delegated ministerial powers under the Bill:
“i. Time: The two year timetable for exit is provided for in Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union. Therefore, the UK needs to be in a position to control its own laws from March 2019, which is why the UK Government and devolved administrations need to take a power so they can act quickly and flexibly to provide a functioning statute book. The complexity of identifying and making appropriate amendments to the converted and preserved body of law should not be underestimated. There is over 40 years of EU law to consider and amend to ensure that our statute book functions properly on our exit from the EU. According to EUR- Lex, the EU’s legal database, there are currently over 12,000 EU regulations and over 6,000 EU directives in force across the EU.2 We are not yet in a position to set out in primary legislation how each failure and deficiency should be addressed, nor would it be practical to do so…”
“ii. Practicality: The power will be exercised by UK ministers and the devolved authorities, enabling them to make the necessary corrections to the statute book required to make the law function effectively in their own field of expertise and competence. Making all corrections on the face of the Bill, at this stage, would not be practical.
iii. Flexibility: Many of the potential deficiencies or failures in law arise in areas in which the UK is considering pursuing a negotiated outcome with the EU. The UK must be ready to respond to all eventualities as we negotiate with the EU. Whatever the outcome, the UK Government and devolved authorities, with the appropriate scrutiny by Parliament and the devolved legislatures, must be able to deliver a functioning statute book for day one post-exit.”
So in the case of environmental impact assessment, are we likely to see any early substantive changes? In my view we won’t. What we will see is amendments made so as to seek to ensue that the Regulations still work in legal terms post exit day and there may be arguments as to whether some of those amendments go beyond what is required to achieve that aim. But the substantive changes (which I’m sure will come) will be for a later stage. The explanatory notes to the Bill say this: “The Bill does not aim to make major changes to policy or establish new legal frameworks in the UK beyond those which are necessary to ensure the law continues to function properly from day one. The Government will introduce separate primary legislation to make such policy changes which will establish new legal frameworks.” (para 14).
This is a commitment that we need to keep the Government to. No changes beyond what is necessary without primary legislation.
Simon Ricketts, 13.7.17
Personal views, et cetera