The Retained EU Law Bill

The Retained EU Law Bill debate is an opportunity to highlight significant risks for Scotland’s environment

Article by Ian M for RSPB Scottish Nature Notes22nd February 2023. Featured image shows a razorbill on a rock, silhouetted against a deep orange sunset, by Ben Andrew.

Last year, we ran a campaign to stop the UK Government’s #AttackOnNature, read our previous blog for a refresher about what was happening. Whilst reassurances or u-turns were made on some of the other proposed policies that we were so angry about – such as Investment Zones and potential backsteps on nature friendly farming in England – one key threat to the environment is still hanging over us: the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill.

Whilst this Bill might sound as dry as yesterday’s toast, it has far-reaching ramifications across the whole of the UK and could affect many things in our day-to-day lives. As a reminder, the purpose of this Bill is to address Retained EU Law, which is domestic law that was kept following our exit from the European Union, and includes laws covering a vast range of subjects. The REUL Bill seeks to ‘sunset’ (end) all of these laws, by the end of 2023, unless steps are taken to keep them. This creates a legislative cliff-edge for thousands of laws.

The environmental risk of this is huge, the Bill covers hundreds of laws that are crucial for protecting and restoring nature across the UK, and we talk specifically about the threats to nature in Scotland in this blog. But beyond the environment the Bill covers laws in areas like public health, workers rights, rights for citizens and consumers.

The approach taken by the Bill – to scrap all of these laws unless they are selected to be retained on our law books, rather than coming at it the other way and retaining all of these laws except those which are deemed appropriate for removing or amending – is dangerous and highly resource intensive. That’s why a strong consensus has been reached across a wide range of sectors, that the Bill should be withdrawn on the grounds that it is reckless and a costly distraction from other critical priorities.

Tomorrow, the Scottish Parliament will hold a debate on the Bill and whether to give it ‘legislative consent’. Whilst this is a UK Government Bill that must be passed through the houses of parliament at Westminster, as it applies to areas that are devolved then it requires consent of the devolved parliaments. At a previous debate on the Bill the Scottish Parliament voted to pass a motion that the Bill “threatens vital environmental and health standards and protections built up over 47 years of EU membership, creates enormous uncertainty for workers and businesses, and undermines devolution, and should, therefore, be scrapped by the UK Government”.

The Scottish Government has made very clear its opposition to the Bill, again in recent a letter to the UK Government and has recommended to the Scottish Parliament to not grant consent. We welcome the Scottish Government’s intention to retain most REUL that sits on Scotland’s statute books if the Bill does pass, but even this would require a lot of civil service and parliamentary time, putting critical planned bills on the natural environment, grouse moors and agriculture at risk.

Last week, a Holyrood committee published its report on the Bill, which highlighted ‘deep and wide-ranging concerns’. We are grateful to have had the opportunity to give evidence to the Committee in December and are pleased to see that many of our concerns are highlighted throughout the report.

We hope to see MSPs take the opportunity in the chamber tomorrow to raise the significant risk that this Bill poses to Scotland’s environment and create a united voice calling on the UK Government to rethink its approach to this reckless bill.


Ross Hunter writes:

Today MSPs voted to refuse legislative consent with Constitution Secretary Angus Robertson claiming that the UK Government’s reaction to this will be a “key test” of its respect for devolution.

He said: “The Scottish Government and a number of key organisations across a range of sectors have many concerns about the bill and we have repeatedly called on the UK Government to withdraw it.

“Firstly, it risks deregulation and threatens the high standards the people of Scotland experienced and benefited from as an EU member state for over 47 years. Secondly, the bill includes powers for UK Ministers to act in areas of devolved responsibility without the consent of Scottish Ministers or this Parliament.

“This is clearly unacceptable and how the UK Government reacts will be a key test of whether or not they intend to continue to ride roughshod over devolution. Thirdly, the bill includes a ‘cliff-edge’ sunset provision, which could see thousands of laws wiped overnight.

“I am pleased colleagues across the Scottish Parliament have voted to withhold consent for the bill and I urge the UK Government to scrap it entirely. If the UK Government are intent on a race to the bottom that will impact standards across the UK, we have published a series of updated amendments to the bill to mitigate the worst of its impacts.”

MSPs voted to withhold consent from the UK Government’s proposed Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill (Image: Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament)

Although Angus Robertson doesn’t specifically mention the environmental laws needing protection, this is a promising step forward by the Scottish Government, and hopefully as he says, the government in Westminster will listen!