Cornwall underwater ripples, Sam Mansfield

The House of Lords to consider Retained EU Law Bill

3 minute read

Sandy Luk - Billy Barraclough

Sandy Luk, CEO Marine Conservation Society

20 Feb 2023

The Retained EU Law Bill makes its way through the House of Lords this week. For the health of people, planet and wildlife it must be reviewed and challenged.

This week, the House of Lords will be discussing amendments to the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill (REUL) which repeals EU-derived laws in the UK at the end of 2023.

We’ve been campaigning for the protection and recovery of nature and the ocean for decades. What is so incredibly frustrating is that a whole raft of laws exist to achieve just that, and yet, many of these laws are under threat.

We have laws on fisheries management, marine and freshwater quality, wildlife protection and, in Wales, even a Well-being of Future Generations Act. Some of these are originally derived from EU legislation and others are not. What these laws all have in common is that they simply need to be properly implemented, complied with and enforced.

With our nature, ocean and climate in a state of emergency, it is critically important that this happens – NOW. Instead, governments across UK are in a state of paralysis. Frantically reviewing thousands of laws instead of making them work, caught up in an artificially imposed deadline that means that all retained EU law will fall away (be ‘sunsetted’) by the end of this year, if it is not specifically identified and either kept as is or changed.

Thousands of environmental laws are at stake.

There is no provision for strengthening laws in any way. In complete contradiction to its role in overseeing and scrutinising the passing of legislation, Parliament is virtually excluded from the process of keeping or amending laws. Against this background, numerous assurances that the intention is to keep a robust system of environmental laws ring hollow, if only because of the sheer size of the task.

There simply isn’t time to take a considered approach and improve legislation. Take marine conservation, for example.

There are thousands of environmental laws to be addressed by the December 2023 deadline. Many of which are crucial to protecting our marine wildlife and the health of our seas; from seasonal fisheries closures and Marine Protected Area management, to the prohibition of discarding quota species.

Fish over kelp Georgie Bull

Credit: Georgie Bull

We simply cannot afford for our crucial laws that protect the ocean to be scrapped or weakened.

This kind of mismanagement of our marine environment would undermine the economic stability of the fisheries and aquaculture sectors, whose fish produce in 2018 was valued at £2billion. That’s not taking account of the value of seagrass, saltmarsh, sands and muds for carbon sequestration and coastal defence against flooding and erosion, which is several multiples higher.

All this is happening against the backdrop of environmental degradation. In January, the Office for Environmental Protection published its latest report on the progress in improving the natural environment. The environmental status of marine waters is in a state of deterioration, and the health of seals, cetaceans, seabirds and fish is static or getting worse. In the meantime, every new week brings more news of sewage spewing into our seas and turning them into a toxic soup.

As members of the Greener UK and Wildlife & Countryside Link coalitions, we’re asking House of Lords members to challenge the passage of the REUL Bill and to urge UK Government to withdraw the Bill.

For more information on our recommendations, please see Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill: briefing for Lords second reading

Reactions from Scottish and Welsh legislators

On the 23rd of February, Scottish Parliament voted against giving legislative consent to the REUL Bill, and the Scottish Government said that the Bill "threatens vital regulations in the environment, food standards and employment sectors and must now be withdrawn".

The Welsh Parliament Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee also raised serious concern over the pace and implications of the Bill, with the majority recommending that the Senedd withholds its consent to the Bill.

The committee stated on the 22nd of February that the Bill “does not allow for the consultative, considered and purposeful approach that such a review requires” and that EU law should be reviewed on a “case-by-case basis”.

In addition to threatening environmental and ocean protection standards that are derived from EU law, the Bill as it stands is not workable in the context of devolution and could in fact significantly undermine it.