Governmental Relations

UK Leaving the EU – How It Is Going to Work

The service yesterday of Notice under Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union 2007 started a 2 year process leading to the UK’s exit from the EU, barring an agreement with the EU to extend this period.

The Government has this afternoon published a White Paper on how it intends “Legislating for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union”.  They are proposing enacting the Great Repeal Bill which they hope will deliver a smooth transition for businesses and individuals to life in a post-Brexit UK whilst removing the UK from the EU and the authority of EU law. 

A key step will involve converting EU law, as it stands at the moment the UK leaves the EU, into UK law.  Save for correcting parts of EU law which will become inconsistent or irrelevant, UK law should remain largely unchanged.  This is intended to give businesses the certainty they need to trade, invest and make business decisions in the period leading up to and immediately after Brexit.  Thereafter, it will be up to Parliament to repeal or update UK law as it sees fit which, in turn, will follow closely the trade deal, if any, the UK is able to negotiate with the EU.

In detail, the White Paper makes the following proposals:

  1. Repealing the European Communities Act 1972.  This was the legislation through which the UK joined the then European Economic Community on 1 January 1973.
  1. This will immediately bring to an end the enforceability in the UK of EU law, including EU Treaties, EU Directives, EU Regulations implemented in the UK under the European Communities Act 1972 and judgments of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).  The ECJ's authority as final arbiter of disputes in the UK of matters involving EU law will also come to an end.
  1. This will also create gaps in UK legislation, including parts of employment law, consumer law, environmental law and procurement law, large parts of which are derived from EU law.  To avoid these gaps, the Great Repeal Bill will convert all the EU law mentioned above into UK law the moment the UK leaves the EU.  Past decisions of the ECJ will remain binding in the UK but future decisions will cease to have effect.  In effect, European law, as it applies in the UK, will be frozen at the moment of Brexit, allowing Parliament to legislate as it sees in the future.
  1. The Bill also proposes giving the Government powers to make secondary legislation, known as statutory instruments, allowing ministers to make whatever further corrections to UK legislation are considered necessary to ensure that what was formerly EU law operates appropriately once we have left the EU.  For example, if a piece of environmental legislation required an opinion of the European Commission before an offshore oil project could take place, this would need to be updated, because the European Commission would no longer have authority in the UK.
  1. The Government has stressed in the White Paper that the powers it is giving itself to change the law without the direct involvement of Parliament will be limited to making corrections to ensure the law works appropriately after the UK leaves the EU, rather than making policy changes.    Assuming this Bill passes through Parliament, no doubt the distinction between what constitutes a correction and a policy change will come under close scrutiny from the political parties and the media.

For further advice on how to prepare your business for life post-Brexit, please contact Clarkslegal LLP

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