The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, published by the House of Commons, seeks to revoke over 2,400 pieces of EU legislation that were included in the UK statute book at the end of the Brexit transition period.
Retained EU Law is a category of domestic law created at the end of the transition period and consists of EU-derived legislation that was preserved in the domestic legal framework by the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.
The Bill will sunset the majority of retained EU law so that it expires on 31st December 2023. All retained EU law contained in domestic secondary legislation and retained direct EU legislation will expire on this date, unless otherwise preserved. Any retained EU law that remains in force after the sunset date will be assimilated in the domestic statute book, by the removal of the special EU law features previously attached to it.
Before that date, Government departments and the devolved administrations require to determine which retained EU law can expire, and which needs to be preserved and incorporated into domestic law.
The Bill includes an extension mechanism for the sunset of specified pieces of retained EU law until 2026. Should it be required, this will allow departments additional time where necessary to assess whether some retained EU law should be preserved.
In Scotland food regulation has been driven by the EU. There are over 50 separate EU Directives and Regulations alone that govern food standards in the UK.
The Retained EU law currently enforces food businesses to maintain minimum levels of hygiene in addition to providing clear information on food labelling.
The FSS believe the Bill, which was published on 22 September 2022, would result in the removal of consumer protections relating to food which have previously applied in Scotland and the rest of the UK for many years.
In order to preserve these same standards in law, FSS will be required to act which would require a substantial resource in an extraordinarily short timeframe. FSS warns that hard pressed resources will now have to be devoted to introducing new law to maintain existing law to protect Scottish consumers.
Even if high legal standards continued to apply in Scotland, the agency says that the Internal Market Act means there would be no way of preventing goods produced under lower legal standards from elsewhere in the UK being sold in Scotland.
The Internal Market Act, introduced in 2020, was opposed by the FSS due to significant concerns voiced by the agency that were ignored.
Heather Kelman, Chair of FSS, commented: “At the heart of what we do, is our responsibility to protect Scottish consumers. This Bill, as it currently stands, poses a significant risk to Scotland’s ability to uphold the high safety and food standards which the public expects and deserves.
“Much of the legislation which could be repealed as a result of the sun-setting clause has been developed over the course of decades and with significant UK input and influence. It exists to ensure consumer safety through the protection of the most vulnerable and ensuring the food and feed which is on the market is safe.
“This Bill could lead to a significant hole where consumer protections sit. The purpose of regulators and regulations, especially in relation to food, is to protect consumers. This Bill confuses ‘red tape’ with consumer protection and indicates that the latter is now less of a priority and of less importance than when we were in the EU.
“Whichever way consumers voted on Brexit, they did not vote for a race to the bottom of lower standards and a de-regulated landscape that reduces consumer protection. We cannot imagine that this is what the UK Government intends.”