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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

Retained EU Law Bill: Government's ‘power grab’ a huge concern for rights, democracy and international relations says IPPR

  • New Retained EU Law bill allows government to change any piece of secondary retained EU law, without the need for an Act of Parliament 

  • Sunset clause revokes all EU-derived subordinate legislation at end of 2023, putting workers’ rights at risk 

  • Deregulation could lead to potential breach of UK-EU FTA 'level playing field' provisions, causing major trade dispute 

The government’s Retained EU Law bill gives ministers extraordinary powers to repeal and revise swathes of EU-derived employment, environmental and consumer protections, says IPPR. 

Under legislation published last week, most of the laws derived from the UK’s 40-year membership of the EU – amounting to more than 2,000 pieces of legislation – will be revoked by default on 31 December 2023 unless ministers or devolved authorities choose to step in and preserve them.  

Democratic concerns 

Clause 15 of the Retained EU Law bill gives ministers the freedom to make major changes to EU-derived secondary legislation without the need for an Act of Parliament. In practice, this gives the government free rein to change laws as it likes – not least because, if ministers decide to sit on their hands, the sunset clause threatens the complete repeal of these laws by the end of 2023. 

This concerning lack of democratic scrutiny and accountability continues a dangerous precedent of growing executive power. Parliament is at risk of becoming increasingly marginalised as the government forges ahead with its post-Brexit plans. 

Undermining workers’ rights 

There is also a direct threat to core rights and protections. The Working Time Regulations – which include the 48-hour working week, minimum rest periods, and annual paid leave entitlements – appear to be at particular risk. 

The bill also sunsets other EU rights and obligations, such as the right to equal pay for work of equal value, unless explicitly codified before the deadline. The clock is therefore ticking for a mass repeal of retained EU law, including the bulk of EU-derived employment protections. 

Trade barriers with the EU 

In 2020, the UK and the EU negotiated a series of ‘level playing field’ provisions as part of their free trade agreement. Reducing labour protections in a way which affects trade or investment could trigger a breach of these provisions and result in a future dispute – potentially leading to new trade barriers. 

Marley Morris, associate director for migration, trade and communities at IPPR, said: 

“Last week’s Retained EU Law bill has received little attention so far amid the fallout from the mini-budget, but it could have huge consequences for the government’s political and economic agenda. Not only does the bill undermine democratic norms and put worker and environmental protections at risk, but it also threatens a dispute with our nearest neighbours. 

This power grab will create further uncertainty for businesses and workers amid the prospect of legal chaos. During a period of exceptional economic turbulence, another arbitrary Brexit deadline seems self-defeating.”