Update on UK-EU Relationship
An update on the relationship between the UK and EU in a post-Brexit world, as the Government backtracks on sunsetting EU law and the Windsor Framework comes under scrutiny.
Revocation of EU Law
The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, which promises to repeal all retained EU law by 31 December 2023, has been the source of much concern in both the Commons and the Lords. In the Commons, there have been multiple amendments tabled to try and carve out particular areas of law from the scope of the Bill (including employment rights and environmental protections), but these have all been voted down by the Conservative majority.
An Opposition amendment was also proposed that would have required the Government to produce a list of all legislation that would be affected by its passing, to demonstrate that the Government itself doesn’t understand the true scope of the Bill’s impact and the legislative leaks that will need to be plugged in 2024. While this was voted down in the Commons, it now appears that the Government has conceded on this point.
Secretary of State for Business and Trade, Kemi Badenoch, confirmed that the Government would be tabling an amendment to the Bill which would replace the current, general “sunset” provision with a specific list of EU legislation to be revoked at the end of the year. Badenoch said that this was in response to the “growing volume of retained EU law being identified, and the risk of legal uncertainty posed by sunsetting instruments made under EU law”.
Badenoch also flagged the Government’s planned changes to employment law, which she stated would involve “cutting unnecessary red tape on recording working hours”, while still “safeguarding the rights of workers”. The proposed changes will affect the Working Time Regulations, TUPE, and, perhaps most significantly, non-compete restrictions. Ian Machray, a partner and solicitor in our employment team, has written a comprehensive article on this topic.
Back in February, the Windsor Framework was announced to much fanfare from the majority of the Conservative party, the Opposition, and the European Commission. At the time, the Framework was presented as a workable solution to the deadlock over Northern Ireland, which all parties seemed to agree would resolve the dispute between the UK and EU on the movement of goods between the Single Market and Northern Ireland.
However, even as early as March, concerns were raised by Northern Irish MPs from both political wings. DUP MPs bemoaned the continuing applicability of EU law and the interference of the European Court of Justice in UK sovereignty. Meanwhile, Alliance and SDLP MPs voiced their worries regarding the “Stormont Brake”, a mechanism in the Framework which would give the Northern Irish Assembly the power to object to changes to EU rules that would apply to Northern Ireland, on the grounds that this might just serve to cause further instability in the already politically paralysed Assembly, and create additional uncertainty for Northern Irish businesses.
Earlier this month, the Lords Sub-Committee on Ireland/Northern Ireland took evidence from retailers and manufacturers on the impact of the Framework. One of the most contentious issues discussed was the requirement for food products being sold in Northern Ireland to be labelled “Not for EU” from October 2023. Andrew Opie, from the British Retail Consortium, told the Committee that “we have no certainty we will be able to comply with the requirements of the Windsor Framework by the 1 October deadline” and highlighted the lack of detail and explanation of process from the Government. Glyn Roberts of Retail NI concurred, saying that “we’ve had very little, if any, dialogue with the UK Government on the issue of labelling”.
- Late 2023: new requirements for Export Health Certificates for EU imports into Great Britain are subject to further delay – a new date will be confirmed.
- Late 2023: Phytosanitary Certificates and physical checks on most remaining SPS goods (such as meat and plants) at Great British border are subject to further delay – a new date will be confirmed.
- Late 2023: Safety and Security declaration requirements on EU imports into Great Britain are subject to further delay – a new date will be confirmed.
- December 2023: current “sunset” date in the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, at which point the special status of EU legislation in UK domestic law will end.
- 31 December 2025: end of grace period for facilitating entry of veterinary medicines from Great Britain into Northern Ireland.