Retained EU Law Bill

Campaigns, Central Government, Climate Crisis

Michael Holder, BusinessGreen 11 May 2023

Government places hundreds of UK green laws on the chopping board

Laws, regulations, treaties and decisions related to habitats, air quality, climate change, renewable energy, farming and fishing proposed for scrapheap under government plans

Hundreds of UK laws and regulations directly related to the environment, climate change, air pollution, farming, energy and fishing are set for the chop before the end of this year, according to a list unveiled by the government which is likely to cause significant concern among green businesses and environmental groups.

Published on 11 May, the Retained EU Law Bill lists almost 570 regulations, orders, decisions, treaties and schemes – all originally derived from the European Union when Britain was a member of the bloc – which the government is proposing to throw on the scrap heap before the end of the year.

The list includes scores of regulations related to habitats, environmentally sensitive areas, water resources, flood risk, air pollution, energy efficiency, renewable energy, farming, emissions trading, and greenhouse gas monitoring, as well as hundreds covering the fishing industry.

Almost all of the listed laws are set to be wholly revoked by the end of 2023 under the stipulations of the controversial Bill, which is sure to spark fears over the potential ramifications for environmental protections, as well as for businesses required to comply with the sudden shift in regulatory requirements.

The number of laws at risk of being revoked has been significantly scaled back from the government’s original plans for the proposed Bill first announced last year, which would have seen more than 4,000 EU-derived laws wiped from the UK statute books overnight on 31 December 2023 under a controversial sunset clause that was widely criticised by business groups.

However, refreshed plans first announced yesterday (10 May) by the government are still set to see around 600 laws directly revoked through the Bill by the end of the year, alongside a further 500 through both the proposed Financial Services and Markets Bill and the Procurement Bill.

The government maintains that its proposed bonfire of EU-derived laws can help to ease the regulatory burden on businesses, claiming that the move would deliver savings of up to £1bn.

But publication of the list this morning has sparked a scramble among green groups to assess the various potential impacts of each of revoking the laws listed, in a bid to determine to what extent the Bill puts the UK’s environmental protections at risk.

BusinessGreen has sought clarification from the Department for Business and Trade as to whether it has carried out an environmental risk assessment for each of the laws and regulations it has placed on the legislative chopping board, but had yet to receive a response at the time of going to press.

Regardless, given the sheer number of environmental laws and regulations that have been singled out to be wiped from the UK statute books by the end of the year by the government, the ramifications of the Bill for businesses and environmental protections are sure to be significant.

The government’s original plan to potentially remove thousands of EU-derived laws by the end of the year had sparked an outcry from a broad coalition of trade bodies, business groups, political figures, and environmental groups over the risk posed by the Bill to environmental protections, workers’ rights and public safety.

A study earlier this year calculated that removing or watering down retained EU environmental laws in just four areas – chemicals, water, air quality, and habitats – could cost the UK economy almost £83bn over 30 years.

The government’s decision to scale back its plans down to scrapping 600 laws directly through the Bill yesterday was therefore greeted with a cautious welcome by green groups, but many harbour continuing concerns that stipulations of the legislation could still allow many critical green regulations to be removed with little oversight or scrutiny.

Ruth Chambers, a senior fellow at Greener UK – a coalition of environmental groups campaigning for a ‘Green Brexit’ – said the Bill still contained “serious flaws”.

“Ministers will still be able to sweep away protections for rivers and wildlife behind closed doors,” she said. “We need the PM to work with peers next week to guarantee existing levels of environmental protection, and to reflect his ambition for accountable government by requiring parliamentary scrutiny over any future changes.”

Beccy Speight, chief executive of the RSPB, yesterday also warned that the Retained EU Law Bill would still grant Ministers “sweeping powers to revoke or replace any retained EU law not included on the list of those being scrapped this year, without the need for robust parliamentary scrutiny or public consultation”.

“These powers last until the end of 2026,” she said. “With nature in crisis, the RSPB believes it is essential that the current level of legal protection is upheld and not weakened, and we will continue to campaign for this.”

Meanwhile, Craig Bennet, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts – a federation of 47 conservation charities across the UK – described the government’s approach to EU-derived laws in the UK as “a shambles from the very beginning”.

“Ministers must stop seeing environmental law as a burden because it helps stop more sewage entering our rives and ensures food is safe to eat,” he said. “Given the urgent need to address the nature and climate crisis, they should be strengthening protections, not ripping them apart.”

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