The Review of Retained EU Law represents a serious threat to our rights. In recent weeks, we’ve talked about various legislative actions taken by the UK Government to erode human rights, such as those announced in the Queens Speech.
Another hugely concerning, but perhaps less obvious, threat to UK rights and equalities standards was contained in the same speech in the seemingly innocuous line,
“A bill will enable law inherited from the European Union to be more easily amended [Brexit Freedoms Bill].”
To explain why this is so significant, we need to take a quick look back at 2018.
When the UK exited the European Union (EU), the UK Government took a snapshot of (almost all) EU law as it existed on the day we left and converted it into domestic UK law through the European Union Withdrawal Act 2018.
This snapshot was crucial to protecting rights because the laws of the European Union have done a lot to realise international human rights in practice in the UK – including for example the right to work (Articles 6 and 7 of ICESCR).
Employment law directives at an EU level provide for issues important to achieving just and favourable conditions of work including health and safety in the workplace (see for example Directive 89/391/EEC and Directive 92/85/EEC), rights of employees when ownership of a company is transferred (Directive 2001/23/EC), and a wide range of anti-discrimination measures (including Directive 2000/43/EC, Directive 2000/78/EC and Directive 2006/54/EC). These protections remain part of UK law because of the ‘snapshot’ we took in 2018.
Back to the today and the Review of Retained EU law. The Bill currently being proposed in the Queen’s speech could mean that protections such as those outlined above could be undermined without the UK Parliament having a say. As noted by the Public Law Project in their recent briefing to Parliamentarians,
“It is not presently known what form this mechanism will take; however, it appears that the intention behind the Bill is to give the Government a broad and general power to amend all categories of retained EU law by Statutory Instrument.”
At the moment it seems as though the UK Government would like to change the process for amending retained EU law so that a Minister would not need to consult with Parliament before changes are made.
This is really important. We believe that because these legislative changes could so fundamentally alter how we enjoy our rights in the UK, the UK Parliament’s scrutinising role must not be removed.
The UK’s exit of the EU did not automatically mean that human rights and equality standards would be reduced. The UK Government is making a political choice, as part of a wider agenda which, we believe, seeks to undermine all our rights.
Instead of diminishing rights, the UK Government has an opportunity to rethink the UK’s future trajectory outside the EU, one which builds upon our current rights frameworks and better realises rights for people across the UK.
We must remain vigilant and united to ensure the fallout from Brexit does not further undermine our rights.
- Join the Civil Society Alliance – a coalition of civil society organisations from across the UK to scrutinise and influence constitutional, administrative and legal changes to the UK policy landscape.
- Read our Brexit Briefing
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Background image by Adonis Papadopoulos
 For more see our briefing paper: The-rights-risks-for-post-Brexit-UK-Briefing.pdf (justfair.org.uk)
 For more on this, we recommend this blog from Professor Catherine Barnard: REUL (Retained EU Law) and Lord Frost – UK in a changing Europe (ukandeu.ac.uk)
 Read more in our joint report to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2022: UPR-submission-Just-Fair-and-Project-17-March-2022.pdf (justfair.org.uk)
 Further detail on the proposals in the Queen’s Speech were included in the Background Briefing Notes, 10 May 2022: Lobby Pack (10 May 2022) (publishing.service.gov.uk