Press release: 23 February 2023

REUL Bill could undermine UK democracy, new legal analysis reveals

A bill going before the House of Lords today threatens to erode UK democracy and grant Government unchecked power when determining the fate of longstanding legal protections, a new legal analysis warns.

This is the alarming conclusion of a new legal opinion of the controversial Retained EU Law (REUL) Bill – provided to ClientEarth, WWF-UK and the RSPB – by public and constitutional law experts Sir Jeffrey Jowell KCMG KC of Blackstone Chambers and Jack Williams of Monckton Chambers.

The bill concerns more than 3,700 domestic laws retained from the UK’s time in the European Union which regulate everything from drinking water, air quality habitat protection and chemicals to consumer rights, employment conditions and food standards. Under the bill, each piece of legislation would need to be preserved, replaced or amended by the end of 2023, or be wiped from the statute book automatically under a much criticised ‘sunset’ clause.

This process would be left entirely to Government ministers which today’s published legal analysis warns will effectively hand over the centuries-old responsibility of law-making from Parliament to the executive branch of Government.

The analysis warns that scrutiny and debate around existing and future laws that impact almost every aspect of our lives would be avoided if this Bill were to pass, undermining the fundamental separation of power within the UK’s democracy. The public, their elected members of Parliament and devolved legislatures would have no say when it comes to the continuation, revocation or replacement of laws that have been in place for years or, in some cases, decades.

Legal uncertainty would also emerge from the bill becoming law, as it would be virtually impossible to predict which laws would be retained, revoked or amended – throwing the UK into regulatory chaos amid the ongoing cost-of-living crisis.

ClientEarth lawyer Angus Eames said: “The threat the Retained EU Law Bill poses cannot be overstated. If passed, it could maim efforts to address the climate and biodiversity crises, put the health of millions at risk and subvert the function of the UK’s political system.

“Decisions on the health of our environment, the safety of our food and our longstanding protections as consumers cannot be left in the hands of current and future ministers without the input and oversight of Parliament – and this legal analysis makes that painfully clear.

“This bill would fundamentally undermine how democracy functions in the UK – which is why we are calling for the Bill to be dropped entirely.”

Beccy Speight, chief executive of the RSPB said: “This detailed analysis of the Retained EU Law Bill exposes a deeply concerning picture that the speed, scale and reach of the Bill will strip our decision-makers and representatives of the ability to fully scrutinise the thousands of pieces of legislation that affect each and every one of us in the UK, including important environmental law.

“In leaving the EU we were promised that we would now be free to replace continent-spanning legislation with laws and regulations that would recognise the specific needs of the UK. If done well this could be a real opportunity to tackle the nature and climate emergency and fulfil our international commitments to protecting and restoring nature. However with at least 1,800 pieces of legislation relating to the environment alone, the scale of this task becomes apparent. We do not know what will replace the EU legislation, but if the Government remains committed to their 2023 deadline, there are clearly important questions to be asked about a path that can only be described as unconstitutional.”

Head of Legal (Advocacy & Campaigns) at World Wildlife Fund UK Jake White said: ““This bill is littered with problems and could represent the single biggest challenge to our environmental law in recent history. The plans are costly and bureaucratic yet the risk to nature and climate is huge.

“Nature is in crisis and we live in one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. The Government needs to urgently tackle the drivers of climate change and nature loss, starting with a much needed transformation of our food and farming systems which globally contribute to more biodiversity loss and emissions than any other industry combined.”


Notes to editors:
About ClientEarth

ClientEarth is a non-profit organisation that uses the law to create systemic change that protects the Earth for – and with – its inhabitants. We are tackling climate change, protecting nature and stopping pollution, with partners and citizens around the globe. We hold industry and governments to account, and defend everyone’s right to a healthy world. From our offices in Europe, Asia and the USA we shape, implement and enforce the law, to build a future for our planet in which people and nature can thrive together.

About RSPB

The RSPB is the UK’s largest nature conservation charity, protecting habitats, saving species, and helping to end the nature and climate emergency. For over a century we’ve acted for nature through practical conservation and powerful partnerships, campaigning and influence, and inspiring and empowering millions of people, including almost 1.2 million members. Our network of over 200 nature reserves sits at the heart of our world-leading science and conservation delivery.

Nature is in crisis, but together we can save it.

About World Wildlife Fund

WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) is a global environmental charity, and we’re bringing our world back to life. With nature in freefall, we’re urgently tackling the underlying causes that are driving the decline – especially the food system and climate change. And we’re finding solutions so future generations have a world with thriving habitats and wildlife.

It’s a huge challenge, but there is hope. We’re working globally with governments, companies, communities and others who have the will to act and the power to transform our world. We’re using our ground-breaking scientific research, our global influence, and the backing of our many supporters to make sure the natural world’s vital signs are recovering by 2030.