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The Brexit Bonfire - your updates on the burning issues as they happen

Expect to see and hear a lot of talk and media coverage about the ‘Brexit Bonfire’ as this year progresses.

It’s a fast-moving story with a seemingly hard finish at the end of December 2023.
We’ll keep you updated with all the significant developments, so bookmark this page. 

12 May 2023

It’s not happening. The government has quietly confirmed that the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill will not go ahead. Kemi Badenoch, the trade secretary, issued a written statement this week saying that only EU laws already singled out to be repealed will be scrapped. It’s estimated that these number around 600. The rest, which were slated to be sunset under the Bill, will instead remain on the UK statute book.

The announcement has infuriated many on the Brexit supporting side of the political divide, while offering one less thing for businesses to worry about.

According to the Independent, Jacob Rees-Mogg, who as trade secretary introduced the Bill last September, said, “This is an admission of administrative failure, an inability of Whitehall to do the necessary work and an incapability of ministers to push this through their own departments.”

For many businesses, however, it’s a “huge sigh of relief.”

So is this the last dying ember of the ‘Brexit bonfire’? It looks like it, but if there are any signs of re-ignition, we’ll cover them here.


4 May 2023

An Institute of Directors (IoD) survey has found mixed support for the Brexit Bonfire among company bosses.

The survey, conducted between 11 and 27 April, asked respondents which policy area offered the greatest opportunity to reduce the regulatory burden of retained EU law. Of the 949 respondents, 47% didn’t want any changes at all - they’d prefer stability in the current framework.

Of those who did have a preference:
  • 19% saw employment regulation as the greatest opportunity for change;
  • 11% chose financial services:
  • 5% said environmental regulation; and 
  • 4% felt the best opportunities for reform were in health and safety regulation.
Read more about the IoD survey.

2 May 2023

Many news outlets are reporting that the government has reduced the number of retained EU laws set for removal from the UK statute book from around 3,700 to 800.

The news follows a meeting between trade secretary Kemi Badenoch and members of the European Research Group on Monday 24 April.
Some of the most high-profile EU derived laws are understood to have been withdrawn from the ‘bonfire.’ If correct, they include the working time directive and environmental legislation.

The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill is expected to return to the House of Lords on 15 May.


25 April 2023

What is the Brexit Bonfire?

Its official name is the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, also known as the Brexit Freedoms Bill. In a nutshell, many EU laws that applied in the UK were adopted as UK law on 31 December 2021, when we officially left the EU. These retained EU laws (REUL) would then, over time be studied with a view to either assimilating them into the domestic statute book (possibly with amendments) - or scrapping them. The Bill doesn’t apply to REUL that was domestic primary legislation.

Why is it called the Brexit Bonfire?

The term ‘Brexit Bonfire’ was coined when the UK government announced in September 2022 that ‘… all retained EU laws will be sunset on 31 December 2023.’ This means that unless retained, they would cease to exist. That said, for particularly complex reforms, the sunset date can be pushed back to 2026. The Bill was passed in the House of Commons in January 2023. 

How many laws are affected and who do they apply to?

As things stand, there are a total of 3,745 retained EU laws. That figure could rise if ‘orphaned’ laws not currently ascribed to a government department are identified by The National Archives. 

By far the most affected government department is the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Lawyers for DEFRA have 1,781 laws to pore over and make decisions on by the end of this year.

In distant second place is HM Treasury with 452 laws, followed closely by the Department for Transport with 424. In total, sixteen government departments have REUL to deal with. You’ll find the full list on the Cabinet Office Retained EU Law – Public Dashboard.

Beyond government departments, everyone is affected by REUL. The UK joined the EU in 1973. Over the years that followed, EU laws covering all areas of life came into effect. The food we eat, the healthcare we receive, how our pensions are managed and our rights as employees and employers are just a few of them.

What are people saying about the Bill?

When announcing the Bill in September 2022, the then Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg said: “The Brexit Freedoms Bill will remove needless bureaucracy that prevents businesses from investing and innovating in the UK, cementing our position as a world class place to start and grow a business.”

However, writing in The New European in January 2023, the journalist Clár Ní Chonghaile Said: “Not only does the Bill delete thousands of laws – it explicitly hands the power to ministers and not MPs to decide what, if anything, replaces them… So much for Brexit restoring parliamentary sovereignty, the only control this will take back is to secretaries of state who will not have the inconvenience of having to account to the House why they are destroying your rights.”

In terms of the logistics of the Brexit Bonfire, the political news outlet Politico reported the UK prime minister Rishi Sunak as telling “… his most senior ministers that work to scrub EU regulations still on the U.K. statute books should be a collective effort — as he again resisted pressure to push back a crucial deadline to do so.” 

Politico went on to report that, despite misgivings raised by some Conservative ministers as well as opposition parties: “House of Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt, who supervises the government's legislative timetable, insisted parliament has the bandwidth to honour the end-of-year deadline, saying: “If that means late hours, so be it — MPs come here to get stuff done.””

But Ní Chonghaile isn’t convinced. She continues: “Some estimates say 20,000 civil servants could be needed to carry out the necessary painstaking reviews, and critics argue there is simply not enough time for a thorough examination of all the laws, meaning there is a risk some could be scrapped almost by accident. Indeed, the National Archives has had to step in to do a separate assessment of how many laws are affected after Rees-Mogg’s dashboard [see link above] was found to have more holes in it than Swiss cheese. “

So, what happens next?

Things are by no means certain with regards to the Bill, even at this stage. On 9 April it was reported that the government had dropped plans to hold the report stage of the Bill in the House of Lords just after Easter. This has led to speculation that ministers may be contemplating a delay and/or scaled down version of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill.
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