DEFRA sees 1,211 new pieces of REUL flood its in-tray ahead of sunsetting

More than 1,300 pieces of legislation have been added to the Retained EU Law dashboard, bringing the total list of laws under DEFRA’s remit that will automatically expire by the end of the year to 1,781.

Parliament. Source - GettyImages, Travelpix Ltd

In an impact assessment for the REUL (Reform and Revocation) Bill published in September last year, 2,416 pieces of legislation were identified that need to be amended, repealed, replaced or kept and assimilated into the UK’s statute books before they are automatically sunsetted on 31 December 2023.

This number has now increased to 3,745 in the latest update to the REUL dashboard after ministers, working with the National Archives, discovered even more EU law.

The department with the biggest workload by far is DEFRA, which at 1,781 has nearly four times the amount of laws to review than HM Treasury, which is the department with the second highest amount of laws to review. This is an increase in 1,211 pieces of legislation since the January update, which makes up the majority of new laws added.

Ruth Chambers, senior fellow at Greener UK, said that the large influx in laws to DEFRA “shows the huge environmental risks of the bill”.

The REUL Bill allows for an extension of the sunset date for specified pieces of legislation to a date no later than 23 June 2026, but currently the government has not said they will use this extension. 

Green watchdog the Office for Environmental Protection has previously raised concerns about the bill, and has asked for the sunset date to be reconsidered and extended as well an environmental regression safeguard be added.

Green groups have also called for the bill to be scrapped, with research by the Wildlife and Countryside Link warning that the weakening of environmental regulations under the bill could deliver an economic cost of £80 billion over 30 years.

READ MORE: The Retained EU Law Bill: The story so far

Dr Joelle Grogan, senior researcher at UK in a Changing Europe, told ENDS: “The only part which is surprising about this story is that it's only 1,328. I've little doubt more will be identified.

"Civil servants and ministers could work both day and night till the deadline, deciding critical questions on whether or not to save laws, and hundreds of pieces of legislation would still be left to sunset without review.

“Where this legislation concerns everything from food standards to gas safety certification to water waste to airline safety, this will only increase pressure for a more feasible deadline.”

A DEFRA spokesperson said: “The UK is a world leader in environmental protection. Reviewing our retained EU law will not come at the expense of the UK’s already high standards and environmental protections will not be downgraded.

“We have set new legally binding targets under the Environment Act, including to halt and reverse nature’s decline. These stretching targets and the Office for Environmental Protection, our new watchdog, will protect and improve the environment”.

A BEIS spokesperson said: “We have always said our work to identify retained EU legislation would bring to light more laws for us to consider amending, repealing, or replacing.

 “The government has been clear in its ambition to fully capitalise on the UK’s Brexit freedoms by removing years of burdensome EU regulation, driving growth, innovation and competitiveness across the country, and improving people’s everyday lives.”