At the centre of controversy on recent policy developments is the proposed Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill. The core goal of the legislation is to end the influence of EU legislation in UK law unless it is otherwise retained. Specifically, “all retained EU law contained in domestic secondary legislation and retained direct EU legislation will expire on [31st December 2023], unless otherwise preserved.”
The implications of that proposal are more than wide-reaching. In environmental policy alone, there are hundreds of pieces of legislation which could be revoked by the Bill, with nearly 600 sitting under the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA). If not otherwise replaced or explicitly retained in UK law, those rules and regulations would cease to apply at the end of next year.
Whilst the Government has not yet given full clarity on its plans, one of several possibilities is likely to be its chosen approach:
- Carefully replace each piece of law with an equivalent UK-made piece of law, preserving all the functions of the existing environmental protections, which would require round-the-clock review of complex regulations and their wider effects, as well as an express legislative drive to pass replacements through Parliament;
- Approve EU-made legislation on a case-by-case basis, with broad frameworks created to replace EU equivalents on each issue where environmental regulation is required, necessitating a significant investment of time and attention into multiple complex environmental issues, with the potential that some regulations slip through the cracks;
- Regulate only on some issues, leading to substantial deregulation of other environmental issues, which could be regulated on in subsequent years, with serious environmental consequences in the interim; or
- Take no (or limited) action, in which case hundreds of laws will be repealed with no effective replacements, leading to mass deregulation and widespread environmental degradation.
The Government has not yet tipped its hand on the specifics of how it intends to deal with environmental laws, and the final scenario is likely to look like a blend of different approaches presented here, depending on specific portfolios and the Government’s objectives. Questions remain about whether any of these options is preferable to the current status quo of environmental regulations, and if the time and effort needed to uproot environmental law will be worth it.
Meanwhile, a great vista of doubt has been painted over the regulatory landscape, leaving environmental professionals, businesses, and the general public without the certainty they need to plan ahead. The Prime Minister's challenge will be to make that uncertainty worth the wait in the long-term.