The Retained EU Law Bill (REUL) is scheduled to have its Report Stage and third and final reading in the House of Commons on Wednesday 18th January, before moving on to the House of Lords. If it is not scrapped, it will have profound and alarming consequences for the UK’s four nations as well as miring all four Governments’ departments in red tape when they are already fully stretched tackling the nature and climate crisis.
In addition to having serious implications for environmental protections in England, the Bill will have major consequences for environmental law and legal certainty in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The Scottish Government has strongly opposed the Bill, calling it a “deregulatory race to the bottom” and the Welsh Government has labelled the Bill a “power grab”.
Jo Pike, Chief Executive of Scottish Wildlife Trust says:
“We are currently in a nature and climate crisis and the Scottish Government is rightly concerned about the potentially catastrophic impact of this Bill, which would wipe away decades of environmental and other protections with potentially far-reaching unintended consequences. The Scottish Wildlife Trust shares these concerns and hopes that action can urgently be taken to reverse these proposals, which will harm nature, people, communities and our economy, as well as undermining devolution.”
Jennifer Fulton, Chief Executive of Ulster Wildlife, says:
“Despite having no government in Northern Ireland, this Bill would task non-existent Stormont ministers with assessing over 500 pieces of legislation on issues from the environment and food safety, to workers rights and public health. So far, Westminster has given no suggestions as to how Northern Ireland is expected to do this. This Bill creates a serious risk that our environmental protections will simply be removed by default, and will have implications for the Northern Ireland protocol.”
Rachel Sharp, Director of Wildlife Trusts Wales, says:
“Jacob Rees-Mogg’s Bill is a direct attack on devolution. The people of Wales have not been consulted, yet the Bill gives powers to Ministers in London to scrap or alter absolutely vital environmental laws. These affect Wales directly and changes will require transposing into Welsh law, snarling up Welsh Parliament time, potentially for years. This means that new Welsh laws that are needed to address the climate and nature crises may not now be able to go ahead. The Retained EU Law Bill must be scrapped.”
Craig Bennett, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts, says:
“This appalling Bill means a huge number of laws will cease to exist on 31st December this year unless a minister decides to keep or amend them individually. This is fundamentally anti-democratic because it should not be ministers that make this decision, it should be Parliament that decides – and only Parliament.
“There’s no way that Defra can make sensible decisions about this staggering number of laws in such a short time. This is a huge problem for all 4 nations because the environment is devolved to the Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. If Rishi Sunak cares about the environment he should rip up this piece of legislation and stop this Bill that poses such a massive attack on nature.”
Watch Craig speaking on this issue here.
The Bill, originally proposed by Jacob Rees-Mogg and the brainchild of the Liz Truss government, puts thousands of laws that protect nature and wildlife at risk – and also threatens regulations to safeguard public health, working conditions, and food standards. It undermines the democratic process and will give UK Government ministers the power to drop vital environmental laws without any public scrutiny during what will prove to be a costly and bureaucratic process.
The Wildlife Trusts, alongside other major environmental NGOs, business groups, legal workers, and trade unions, are calling for this Bill to be withdrawn immediately. Wildlife Trusts Wales, Scottish Wildlife Trust and Ulster Wildlife are all in opposition to the Bill.
The REUL Bill is the UK Government’s plan for the more than 2,400 pieces of legislation still in force and the Scottish Government refers to an estimated 3,800 laws that could be repealed or replaced. For civil servants, the task of assessing and dealing with each piece of REUL is vast. The Bill is set to remove thousands of important EU-derived protections by the end of the year. It sets out broad powers and short timescales for the Government to do this. There is no indication of which laws will be lost and which will be assimilated into domestic legislation, with or without changes. The UK Government claims that changes to REUL could strengthen protections for nature. However, Clause 15 of the Bill states that any changes to rules cannot increase the regulatory “burden”, meaning protections cannot be improved. The direction of travel that this Bill promotes is therefore abundantly clear – it is deregulatory.
The Wildlife Trusts have three key concerns about the REUL Bill and its impact upon our ability to protect the environment:
The ‘Sunset Clause’
Clause 1 of the Bill contains a sunset provision which would mean that, unless other action is taken to retain, replace or amend REUL, it would automatically be revoked on 31st December 2023. Far from removing red tape, the REUL Bill is set to create extra work and uncertainty for industry, conservation organisations, and government departments. Estimates have put the cost to the taxpayer of this bureaucratic process in the tens of millions.
Lack of democratic process
The REUL Bill undermines democratic processes. It proposes wholesale change to the statute book with no parliamentary scrutiny, enabling ministers to repeal, revoke, replace or amend any REUL without explanation. Both the Welsh and Scottish Governments have written to the UK Government to express their concerns in this area.
Threat to nature
The REUL Bill is one element of the UK Government’s attack on nature. The loss of environmental REUL would impede the UK’s ability to meet the UN nature COP15 agreement it successfully helped negotiate just last month. What’s more, Clause 15 of the Bill states that changes to rules cannot increase the regulatory “burden”, meaning that this Bill can only accelerate deregulation and cannot strengthen protections for nature. Please see Editor’s notes below for further information about the pieces of EU-derived legislation we are most concerned about.