Never-Ending Brexit: The Brexit Freedoms Bill as a Distraction
On 31 January 2022, the United Kingdom's government announced its proposal for the Brexit Freedoms Bill which will attempt to make the process of amending retained European Union legislation easier and include a drive to cut GBP 1 billion of red tape for businesses and corporations. These claims are being used by the government to regenerate support for their base after recent scandals.
When the UK left the EU on 31 January 2020, it began a one-year transition period which ended on 31 December 2020. From this point, EU law no longer applied within the UK. This, however, would have left gaps in UK law where EU regulations had previously applied. In anticipation of this issue, the UK government created a stipulation within the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 which would continue the effect of “EU-derived domestic legislation… on and after exit day,” officially codifying these EU laws into the UK system. These laws include significant pieces of legislation such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Market Abuse Regulation and the first five Anti-Money Laundering Directives.
Under the Withdrawal Agreement, the government can amend these retained EU laws to correct deficiencies but they are unable to extend or reduce the scope of protection that these laws provide or to implement policy changes through them without an Act of Parliament. These are the same rules that apply to standard British laws.
The government’s announcement and explanation of the Brexit Freedoms bill demonstrate significant political bias. Calling these types of laws “retained EU law” and pledging to “end the special status that EU law still enjoys within [the British] legal framework” ignores the fact that the EU-derived laws have officially become British law through the Withdrawal Act and that the status of these laws is not special but rather exactly the same as UK-written laws which have the same amendment process.
The bill also promises to cut GBP 1 billion of red tape for UK businesses but the government has yet to provide specific suggestions for regulatory change. Instead, it has opted to provide two core ways to deliver better regulations which include a renewed regulatory framework; this is based on five new "principles for regulation" and operate by making it easier to replace retained EU law through the Brexit Freedoms bill itself.
Additionally, the government has published a policy document alongside the announcement of the Brexit Freedoms bill which outlines the benefits of Brexit. This document briefly discusses the proposed bill by stating that new powers to amend retained EU law would be added “to deliver the UK’s regulatory, economic, and environmental priorities". This alludes to the Brexit Freedoms bill whilst still only providing vague promises rather than detailed policy proposals.
These attention-grabbing announcements have allowed the government to claim that they are "getting Brexit done" whilst, in reality, the proposals lack substance and have been rushed through. Scottish and Welsh ministers, for example, have claimed that these plans and policy proposals are “last-minute and crack-handed” and that in a meeting about the proposals with the attorney general, Suella Braverman, “there were no meaningful answers at all".
The Withdrawal Agreement and Trade and Cooperation Agreement were signed, the Transition Period has ended and now it appears the government is nearing the conclusion of a seemingly never-ending Brexit. If the Brexit Freedoms bill is passed, it will allow the government to amend and replace EU law without Parliament needing to pass primary legislation. This will allow the Government to implement policy on a wider scale and is a good way of appeasing the base of the Conservative Party - conveniently when the Prime Minister needs it most.
This bill could have wide-reaching consequences for businesses as many of the regulations that they currently abide by would be able to be amended for policy changes. Rather than providing headlines and broad suggestions, the government should provide more concrete proposals so that corporations have a better idea of changes within the legal landscape.