• Sun. Jun 23rd, 2024

The EU Sunset Bill – An Undemocratic Waste of Time

ByPaul Battle

Feb 10, 2023
Rishi Sunak smiling at the camera. He is wearing a black suit with a light blue tie. Behind him is the Houses of Parliament.

This week the House of Lords is set to debate the “EU Sunset Bill” or, more formally, the “Retained EU Law revocation and Reform Bill”. The Sunset Bill was originally proposed by Boris Johnson’s government in January 2022 and has since been supported by the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg. Essentially, the sunset bill will revoke any aspects of EU treaties which remain in UK legislation at the end of 2023. This means that at least 4000 EU laws could be blown into oblivion at the end of the year, introducing a profound gap in UK statute law and an indefensible uncertainty towards worker rights. 

When Britain officially left the EU in January 2020, the EU Withdrawal Act effectively copied and pasted all EU treaties made before 2018 into UK legislation and gave them supremacy over pre-existing UK laws. Theresa May, who was Prime Minister at the time, recognised that this was an absolute necessity as we could not simply scrap all EU law with no substantial replacement. However, it seems that this kind of sensibility has now been lost. 

The government has established that the only laws which will not be eradicated are those which have been restated or updated by government ministers by the end of 2023. Ministers can also request an extension of the bills to the 23rd June 2026. However, there are quite literally thousands of laws which this new bill will affect; the government itself does not even know the exact number. The extent of laws is so great that it will be an impossible task for ministers and civil servants to sieve through the laws in only a few months. 

The laws in question include vital protections of worker’s rights, aviation quality, food quality standards, anti-monopoly laws, and anti-corruption laws. To simply remove them from UK legislation with no tangible replacement or resolution honestly seems like a ludicrous proposition. However, it is not only me that believes this. The bill has quite literally been received positively by no one. The Scottish parliament and Welsh assembly are unhappy with their lack of consultation. Businesses are criticising it as it creates uncertainty and further discourages investment (which is already underperforming).  Lawyers believe it creates legal confusion. The Civil Service believe it will take thousands of hours which they cannot afford. 

Finally, and arguably most importantly. The bill is entirely undemocratic. It places excessive power in the hands of ministers and Whitehall. There is little understanding of how ministers will utilise this power but it is clear that this is a calculated bill to bypass parliament and remove scrutiny. Allowing a handful of Conservative Ministers to pick and choose from thousands of laws without any debate is literally allowing them to rewrite the system however they see fit. 

A vast majority of retained EU law is working well. Furthermore, the UK actually played a central part in the creation of many of these laws. Therefore, a solution would be to find the aspects which are working well, then amend the few sectors which are not. This process should be completed through primary legislation so parliament is not bypassed.  

Liz Truss repeated the same old slogans in support of the bill stating that it will “reclaim the sovereignty of parliament” and allow the UK to fully adopt any benefits of Brexit. However, the bill comes across as an undemocratic waste of time, supported by almost no one and it is a distraction from the greater issues at hand.

Image credit “Rishi Sunak MP – hi-res” by Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Govt is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.