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The fate of 50,000+ EU Laws post-Brexit

A total of 52,741 laws have been introduced in the UK as a result of EU legislation since 1990, illustrating the sheer scale of the UK government’s future challenge to overhaul the EU’s influence over its body of law, following the historical EU referendum vote last June.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May has said that the European Communities Act 1972 (the Act that enshrined UK membership of the EU in UK law) will be repealed once the UK formally leaves the EU. At that time, EU law-derived provisions will remain in UK law until reviewed and decisions are made as to whether to keep, amend or repeal them.

How EU membership has influenced UK law

EU regulation has influenced a wide range of areas of UK law since the UK joined the EC in 1973, with trade, agriculture, financial services and the environment counted among those most affected. Other areas – including employment and immigration – have also been impacted.

While considering the future of UK law in a post-Brexit landscape, it’s important to note high profile EU regulations that currently impact UK laws:

  • The EU Climate and Energy “20-20-20” Package: Laws implementing the EU Emissions Trading Scheme to cut greenhouse gas emissions from major industries and various financial incentives to achieve 15% of UK energy from renewables by 2020;
  • Chemicals (REACH), hazardous substances (RoHS) and packaging requirements which UK manufacturers have to comply with to sell into the EU;
  • The Working Time Directive: Giving workers the right to a minimum holiday entitlement each year and limiting the working week to 48 hours;
  • The Temporary Agency Workers Directive: Seeking to give equal rights to agency employees and permanent employees carrying out the same job within a business;
  • The Capital Requirements Regulation (CRR) and Capital Requirements Directive: Setting out key obligations for EU banks, including implementing Basel III prudential requirements, establishing the passporting regime for banks and imposing remuneration requirements.

We can surmise that the extent of the continued application of EU law in the UK will depend on the nature of negotiations surrounding an exit agreement. It is likely that businesses operating within the EU will need to continue to comply with both UK and EU Law.

What role will trade agreements play?

Looking ahead, new trade agreements formed between the UK and the EU will be influential, and may require the UK’s ongoing adherence to relevant EU laws, despite it no longer be an EU member state.

Daniel Greenberg, legislative expert and author of Craies on Legislation, published by Thomson Reuters, speculates on future scenarios:

“Intense lobbying from interest groups that may suffer or benefit from the abolition of certain EU laws in the UK, is likely to become a major feature of this process.

So-called EU ‘red tape’ has been central to the ‘Brexit’ debate. Judging by the relationship of existing non-EU European countries with the EU, it is, however, unlikely we will be seeing a bonfire of these regulations.

Switzerland and Norway still have to implement many EU laws (despite not being member states) due to the nature of their trade agreements with the EU.

The content of the UK’s trade agreements with the EU are similarly likely to be a determining factor on the extent to which the UK continues – or not – to implement EU laws.

Ultimately, politicians and trade negotiators [on both sides will need to determine] exactly what the nature of the UK’s relationship with the EU will be. This, in turn, will affect the EU’s future influence over UK regulation.”

– Daniel Greenberg, Parliamentary Counsel

Practical Law and Westlaw, Thomson Reuters’ UK legal know-how and research services, are working closely with subscribers to help them prepare to navigate the challenging landscape ahead. The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill is available on Westlaw UK, with a complete bill tracker, detailing stages past and upcoming, and any amendments the bill may make to UK legislation.

The UK faces the challenge of the potential unraveling of 52,741 EU laws applying in the UK since 1990 – that’s 6,718 new laws applying in the UK since 2010 alone

Number of EU laws applying in the UK since 2010

Chart shows the more than 50k EU laws applying in the UK since 2010 by year
Source: EUR-Lex. Laws include regulations (directly applicable to all EU member states) and directives (rules to be incorporated into individual member states existing national laws) – but exclude decisions.


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