Even more retained EU law (in every sense)

A few months ago, the government updated its retained EU law (REUL) dashboard, its go-to place for monitoring progress in moving away from this foreign imposition on the UK.

As I noted at the time, this wasn’t entirely satisfactory, either in terms of the new discoveries of EU law or the progress towards the nomination deadline of the REUL Bill, wherein anything not explicitly dealt with otherwise by the end of 2023 would be revoked/sunset/sunsat/sunsetted.

It’s been clear from the off that the Bill is a nonsense, given that the government doesn’t know what is on the books and that departments evidently don’t have the capacity to check the impact of revocation.

That the government has finally conceded this point with the decision last week to move an amendment to make revocation an exception rather than a rule is welcome, even if it doesn’t address the other deficiencies of the Bill.

The intention now is that the government will seek to revoke a specified list of REUL by the deadline, with everything else being left for later/kept on the books (depending on how you want to see it).

That list finally came out this week.

Having produced a tracker of progress on REUL since last summer, it felt incumbent that I check out what was on this list and its impact on revocation.

On a first analysis, problems rather leapt out:

The problems are two-fold.

First up, the schedule includes a lot of items that weren’t previously listed on the dashboard: 171 of the 587 items, or 29% have no obvious match to what was available with last week’s update of the dashboard.

While many of these new items were relatively mundane and inconsequential, the fact that after two major revisions to the list there were still so many items that hadn’t been noted before just underlines the fundamental problem behind the REUL Bill: it’s hard to have confidence in the automatic revocation/sunsetting process when you keep on discovering new items that this affects.

This new discovery falls across a lot of departments in Whitehall, especially in DEFRA, DfT and DESNZ. The outlier is Treasury, mainly because their REUL is parked in a separate process under a new financial services bill.

However, for everyone the impression is that there’s ever more REUL than before (and these graphs are without the new items from the schedule):


Which leads to the second issue: record-keeping.

In the course of checking through the schedule it became apparent that there is neither a consistent identification protocol for REUL items nor a check on duplication.

to take two examples from the Excel spreadsheet behind the dashboard, Council Decision 2010/763/EU and Regulation 906/2009 both appear twice. Even if that doesn’t carry through to the dashboard itself, it raises questions about how far there is full oversight of the process in central government bodies.

Overall, while the government’s move on the REUL Bill is welcome it still leaves a number of basic questions unanswered on how practical or viable the process intended might be. The shift to retention until otherwise decided makes even more sense that it already did, but this should not obscure the difficulties involved or the potential for unintended consequences.

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Thinking and planning ahead in UK-EU relations

As someone who’s just passed the 8th anniversary of his Brexit-related podcast (do sign up, it’s gripping), I feel I’m well-placed to consider the issue in the longer run of UK-EU relations.

I also feel broadly justified in summing up UK policy on the matter throughout the post-war period as “errrm”.

There’ a lot of reacting, not much proacting [?] and plenty of this:

As such, for a long time now my main question about Brexit has been: “what next?”

It was evident even before the 2016 referendum that it was not really going to be an engaged and thoughtful debate about the UK’s role in the world or the purpose of any particular form of relationship with the EU. It was a bun fight.

The lack of planning by either the government or the Leave campaigners for the eventuality of a Leave win meant 2016-17 was another bun fight over owning that result to advance agendas, most of which had nothing to do with UK-EU relations per se.

The horrors of 2017-19 and the fighting of many battles in Parliament stemmed from the profound lack of consensus (or even majority) in all this.

The runctions over the Northern Ireland Protocol that ran from 2020 have only continued to obscure the wider issue of what to do in the broader sense.

So I’m always on the look-out for people with ideas.

The most satisfying pieces have been those that focus on process. Anton Spisak’s work is a good example of this, as the recent Lords European Affairs Committee report (and not because I get quoted). Such pieces are at least as important as overviews of policy areas, which might set out opportunities, but not logics.

With all this in mind, I’ve been discovering something a bit different again: what we’ll call (because others call it that) the O’Malley Pivot.

For those who know about it, this might be point where you tut and note that the first part of this plan is shutting up about it. To which I’d make the rejoinder that a free Substack feed isn’t the place you put things you actually want to stay secret.

In essence, O’Malley argues that Labour should be left to be quiet about ‘Europe’ until they win the next general election, whereupon they form an independent commission to consider future relations and then sell the result as ‘actually getting Brexit done’, even as you end up much closer to a Norwegian model of relations. Sidestep the politicking, reach across the aisle, assume most people aren’t too bothered, especially if you can rebrand Freedom of Movement of people.

In its defence, it’s not the worst idea I’ve seen, by some distance. There’s no will to power, no heroic assumptions, no breaking of international law.

Certainly, if such a commission where to occur, I’d be happy to try and make a contribution to it.

But still, we come back to the questions of intent and legitimacy.

A commission of the great and the good [insert any punchline you like here] might be able to take a longer view, but any relations with the EU necessarily require a set of understandings about the UK itself and what it wants to achieve.

Maybe that’s about being a global force for good, or a major trading partner, but what if that leads you to seeking EU membership again? You might be able to revisit what Leaving looks like, but to revisit Leaving itself is another matter.

Even if you don’t arrive at a rejoining position, the technocracy of a commission and its attendant obfuscations about terminology are still problematic. Remember that one of the big drivers of euroscepticism across Europe is the sense of a lack of connection with the EU as a system. The assumptions of the permissive consensus don’t stand up any more, as was seen so often during the referendum.

None of which is to say that there isn’t a need to avoid falling into a cul-de-sac of European policy, where no-one is willing to expend the political capital needed to arrive at a policy that is anything other than least-offensive.

So process does matter. It needs all relevant parties to try to treat with each other openly and constructively, trying to take people along with them rather than dropping a little gift on their laps. And it means not prejudging the outcome, but accepting that a fair process is more likely to produce a fair result.

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When is a framework actually in operation?

We’re now at a point where it’s possible to say that almost all of the Windsor Framework’s numerous elements are now either fully adopted or (for a handful of pieces of EU legislation) in the process of agreement.

That might make for a nicely-coloured graphic, but what does it actually mean on the ground?

As various people noted when I tweeted this out, having the legal adoption of a text doesn’t immediately mean it comes into effect, something that was being noted by the witnesses at the Lords Protocol Sub-Committee evidence session yesterday.

Partly that’s because of the provisions of the decisions themselves.

Article 23 of Joint Committee Decision 1/2023 (the key document in all this) sets out a number of different dates for entry into force of provisions. The default date is 30 September 2023, with only a handful of elements immediately in force.

It’s also worth noting that that default date only produces an entry into force if the EU is satisfied about access to UK information, EORI paperwork is correctly issued, the UK has guidelines in place on parcels and NI-GB goods export. No satisfaction, no operationalisation of the provisions.

There’s another reason too, namely the lack of UK documentation to clarify process (h/t to @irishagreement for this).

The government’s Border Target Operating Model will be the new standard system for goods movements across the UK’s borders, but this will only fully come into effect at end October 2024. Moreover, it specifically notes the Windsor Framework’s agreement and says new arrangements will be forthcoming ‘later this year’.

In both cases, the focus returns to UK capacity, rather than EU-UK agreement per se.

This was largely obscured during the time of the Johnson administration: the policy of contesting the Withdrawal Agreement’s provision (and status) meant that building effective systems necessarily took a bit of a back seat. This January’s agreement on a basic system of information-sharing can only be partly explained by the technical issues involved.

But IT is only one part of the infrastructure and process involved, as the Border Target Operating Model makes clear. From the EU’s perspective, making sure that this is all in place is understandably important, given the need to protect against any future backsliding by a UK government that doesn’t have a perfect record (and that might be out of office relatively soon).

This would have been the case even without Windsor: last year’s infringement procedures (now suspended) were precisely about such issues.

Even at arm’s length, interaction with the EU comes with obligations, something that will only become more evident as new areas of cooperation are developed.

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Over the Horizon

No graphic for you this time, mainly because the ideas that I’m writing about here are part of an on-going process/struggle for me to generalise into something bigger. But I’m sure you’ll cope.

Blossom: new beginnings, ephemeral

The ‘resolution’ of the Northern Ireland Protocol with the Windsor Framework earlier this year was taken in some quarters as a sign for all manner of new cooperation between the UK and EU to unfurl. Sure, Windsor didn’t actually solve everything (and needs to be implemented), but it gave both sides an opportunity to try giving their post-membership relationship a more regular twist.

Top of that particular to-do list was Horizon, the EU’s main research programme.

The UK had always said it wanted to stay involved in it after it left, but the joys of 2019-20 meant that while there was a mechanism for managing this in the TCA, it got stuck while the Commission pondered some technical questions that had absolutely nothing to do with the Irish impasse.

Result? Two full years of UK non-association to Horizon, which meant no access to several of the funding lines and severely restricting rules for the rest. UK researchers, who had hitherto been both disproportionately active and successful, either wind down their bidding a lot or else moved to other countries that could access the programme (i.e. pretty much anywhere else on the planet).

Windsor undoubtedly unlocked this. Even as Ursula Von Der Leyen proclaimed the Framework’s agreement with Rishi Sunak in the random hotel-that-was-more-Surrey-than-Berkshire, she said work on association could start ‘immediately’.

Of course, starting work ‘immediately’ doesn’t mean agreeing ‘immediately’, and we find ourselves two months later still without a settlement, despite some rounds of detailed talks.

The core issue now is one of money.

The UK argued that since it hadn’t been associated in the first years of the current funding cycle (2021-27), it shouldn’t have to make contributions for the time it missed.

After some pushback by the Commission, that point was conceded, whereupon the government then suggested that this non-participation had a chilling effect on researchers, who wouldn’t be able to return to full capacity in bidding for some time, so a further reduction in contribution would be proportionate.

And here we find ourselves now, a bit stuck.

It’s not clear how this issue will resolve, but confidence still seems high on both sides that a resolution is possible, but it raises a number of reflections about EU-UK cooperation.

Big picture, small steps

Perhaps the central point of this tale is that the calculation for doing work together is now situated in a different context.

Haggling over funding is hardly something that was invented on the day the UK left the EU: a moment’s glance at any budgetary question from the history of European integration will tell you that much.

What is different is the scope for trade-offs.

As a member state, the UK was – like its counterparts – able to balance out costs or disadvantages in one area of cooperation by building up package deals. Everyone gets something they value, enough to justify more localised costs. This was not only in treaties, but also in linkages across secondary legislation, most notably the Single Market programme in the 1980s.

Now however, the UK is a third country, so the EU is able to structure things rather differently. Horizon is not part of a package of topics, but a standalone. Agreeing the Windsor Framework was the entry price to a new negotiation about Horizon association, even though the EU had connected it previously.

The reason the EU is able to do this is two-fold.

Firstly, this is about the UK joining an EU programme. So the EU holds the veto power alone: whatever requirements it decides it has for entry, it can impose on the UK and anyone else. If it were about creating a new joint structure – like the Withdrawal Agreement or the Trade & Cooperation Agreement for example – then both parties would have veto rights, but this takes us to the second reason.

Despite being one of the world’s largest economies and a state with global ambitions, the UK is still relatively small in the grand scheme of things. As a result, its options for alternative lines of action are rather limited, which in turn mean that cleaving to the EU becomes more of a necessity, which takes us back to that first reason.

Research is a good demonstration of this.

Throughout the past few years, the UK government has talked up building alternatives to Horizon that ‘better serve’ UK interests.

Only this month, it published details of a plan for ‘Pioneer’, as a back-up should Horizon association not play out. This would have the same budget envelope as Horizon, so surely it’s just as good, right?

Not really.

The value of Horizon and its predecessors was always much more in the networks of collaboration that it built, rather than the money per se. For example, I’ve just finished a project with partners across Europe, South Africa and Canada which has given me a bunch of new contacts and opportunities for future work that would otherwise have been unavailable.

So Pioneer, like the other Plan B options the government has advanced before, falls far short, precisely because other countries aren’t part of it. Witness the Turing Scheme, designed to make up for exiting ERASMUS+ exchanges, which still has nothing like the breadth and range of international partners.

As any negotiator will tell you, knowing what your alternative to agreement might be is really useful in deciding whether to accepting that agreement. But in this case, that alternative is so clearly inferior (and clearly so to all parties) that it doesn’t really work as an incentive to the EU to flex. No wonder the minister has not gone full-Johnson on ‘no deal’.

All of this is likely to be a pattern that gets repeated again and again in the future. The EU’s relative weight mean it can be pretty confident that the UK will have to bend to its terms, or instead wait until it comes around to that idea.

This isn’t to say that the UK has no options, but rather that it needs to start from a position of understanding this situation more fully. And in coming posts I’ll write some more about what it might do about it all.

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Implementing the Windsor Framework

The recurring trope of getting Brexit ‘done’ is incredibly hard to escape: the public (including my family, as far as I can tell) would love not to have the matter occupy their minds any more, and those more connected to matters would love to be in a more regular steady state.

Sadly, things don’t actually work like that.

So the Windsor Framework is not only not a ‘doing’ of Brexit, but its unveiling at the end of February wasn’t even the ‘doing’ of the Framework itself: it’s a pile of bits and pieces, almost all of which require more work to be given effect.

To keep some track of this, I’ve made the graphic below, which includes all of the Framework elements and their current status between being announced and coming into effect: I’ll update regularly.

Some notes are in order here though.

Firstly, even this busy graphic doesn’t include everything. The British government has made various other (vaguer) commitments, on a Parliamentary vote and on the arrangements for the Brake,  but until we have something closer to chapter and verse on their form I’m keeping these off the table.

Secondly, processes of approval vary wildly here. The stuff that’s ‘in effect’ are just statements, while several of the other things have to get through multiple steps in the EU, or the UK or the Joint Committee structure. As much as possible, I will link out to document versions (the PDF version has all the clickable links), since that’s obviously of consequence, although the logic of the Framework is that the scope for deviating from the original package is pretty limited.

Finally, all of this just highlights once more that the Protocol (and by extension Brexit as a whole) is a process: the Brake is a response to the dynamic nature of single market alignment. Which means we are never going to get to a fixed end-point in this, just varying degrees of stability and resilience of mechanisms to manage that evolving relationship.

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The Stormont Brake

The other evening I had a quick drink in Brussels with a bunch of people who could, by any reasonable definition, be described as experts on the technicalities of Brexit.

As I struggled with the whole order-your-beer-via-an-app thing, they discussed the Windsor Framework, as one does in such settings. It was clear that they (just like me) are still very much getting to grips with how it works.

As well as all the documents published last week, it’s increasingly clear that there will be a raft of further legislation and enabling procedure to make it all work. And that lawyers are going to get a lot of billable hours out of this.

A case in point is the Stormont Brake, the new mechanism to allow Northern Ireland a say on the introduction of new EU legislation there.

The graphic at the bottom of this post represents several hours on my part working through multiple documents, another couple of hours trying to re-organise that into a more useable form, and then various exchanges on Twitter about what I’ve missed.

Jess Sargeant at the IfG is the only other person who seems willing to try to do this exercise too and her version is very much worth your time, since it’s much better than mine about process:

What I do have is conditions. Lots of conditions.

The first objective here seems to be balancing the giving of voice to Northern Irish concerns about new legislation with the impairment of the Protocol’s functioning. The EU closely defined in the original text what was the minimum needed to keep the North-South border open, so any derogation from that is potentially a problem.

Hence the power given to MLAs is highly circumscribed and highly unlikely to be used (see Steve Peers’ excellent analysis on this too).

The second objective is about incentivising the DUP to return to power-sharing: none of the Brake can work without functioning institutions or a rather vague requirement that MLAs are acting in good faith within those institutions: any hint of messing about on this is grounds to dismiss the entire exercise.

Finally I will note that there’s lots of paperwork requirements here and London has dumped that on Stormont: if the Assembly want to use the machinery then they are doing all of the heavy lifting.

So enjoy this one and remember that it requires not only the Windsor Framework documents to be turned into actual decisions and legislation, but also further activity within the UK on a TBC basis.

Which means next week’s work is going to be about timelines.

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Starting to unpack the Windsor Framework

The unveiling of the Windsor Framework this week was important in many ways.

Not only did it provide a set of solutions to the most pushing and tricky problems facing the Northern Ireland Protocol, but it also marked a return to more conventional modes of British diplomacy towards the EU.

To watch Rishi Sunak and Ursula von der Leyen at their press conference on Monday speaking in not only warm tones but also in very coordinated language, as they sought to generate (successfully) buy-in for a package of measures that had been put together under close secrecy.

As someone observed in my presence this week, no more of the leaking and briefing of the Johnson period, when everyone had an agenda and was just using the issue to get ahead.

Even if we still await a final confirmation of acceptance from both Tory backbenchers and the DUP, the signs are that this is the only game in town: evolving the Protocol into the Framework and (hopefully) letting everyone focus on further refinements to its operation and on other points of UK-EU cooperation.

So it matters.

But it’s also fair to say that the drafters of the Framework have decided to go for the ‘let’s make life not easy for the casual reader” approach.

Partly that’s because of the necessary mix of political statements and legal work, but it also conveniently makes it much harder for critics to point to obviously unacceptable language.

With that in mind, I’ve been working on trying to get a clearer picture of what’s going on.

My first graphic today organises the 21 documents by their status and effects: as you’ll see, much of this is about political clarifications and unilateral actions to resolve points.

There is one Joint Committee Decision that is crucial, and we’ll come back to that in coming weeks, not least to explore the new mechanisms of the Stormont Brake and the question of whether the CJEU’s role has actually changed at all (spoiler: not obviously).

Secondly, I took a quick go at the most significant obstacle to the Framework’s successful agreement and implementation: DUP approval for it.

Note that even if the DUP accepts the Framework, that does not necessarily mean it will either return to the Assembly or form an Executive under a Sinn Fein First Minister, even if the Stormont Brake is designed to get them to do exactly that.

Given that a functioning Executive is at least as important to Downing Street as making the Protocol work, the DUP’s decision matters.

Their seven tests from 2021 are still their baseline and as you’ll see while the Framework has indeed made progress on all points, none of them are unambiguously resolved to narrow readings of the DUP’s demands.

So still things to be played for and debates to be had.

If you have some aspect of the Framework you’ll like me to work on, just drop me a line and I’ll be happy to give it a go.

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More retained EU law (in all senses)

Rather than rake over the current indulge-fest that is the will-they-won’t-they of the Sunak deal with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol (although you can read my thoughts elsewhere, here and here), I notice it’s the time of the month to check back in on retained EU law (REUL).

Long-standing readers will know that since the middle of last year, I’ve been giving a damn about following the government’s published data on the project of working through all remaining pieces of legislation,  project that gained urgency with the Retained EU Law Bill that I’ve discussed a few weeks ago.

The visualisation provided has painted a picture of slow progress to date: between the first publication of the data in late June 2022 and the end of January this year, the only update was to correct one error. Otherwise, there was not a single instance of amending, repealed or replaced an item of REUL noted.

The simplest explanation was that the person who’d built the visualisation simply hadn’t had time (or been bothered) to update things. However, given that in the 19 months between leaving the EU and that first publication only 17% of REUL had been changed in some way, it might also be inferred that this was both a slow process and one where there actually was a good reason to keep the relevant REUL.

However, the REUL Bill has now set up a situation where all the remaining items need attention, since they would be otherwise automatically sunsetted/sunsat at the end of this calendar year.

As I noted in my previous post, part of the problem was the announcement by the National Archives in November that there was a significant additional volume of REUL that had been identified.

Despite all this incentive, the visualisation ticked on, in the narrow sense that there were no updates.

Until earlier this month, when a major upload took place.

This update took a while to properly populate the visualisation, but now we have a new snapshot of progress.

Significantly, all that extra REUL has now been brought into the mix. Almost all of it falls within DEFRA’s remit; a reflection of the extent to which agricultural policy had been centralised during EU membership, obscuring the operation of particular pieces of EU law.

That addition meant that there is no more unchanged REUL properly on the books than at any time since withdrawal.

However, that change in baseline does obscure some other important developments. If we assume that the newly-identified REUL has not been attended to (both because they only just found it and because that implies it wasn’t mission-critical), then we can see a big jump in REUL that has been changed.

In January 2023, before the update, 411 items were recorded as amended, repealed, replaced or expired, while one month later we have 671 items, a 63% jump. Again, we might sensibly assume this is the cumulative effort since June 2022 rather than some Stakhanovite push to please ministers: future month’s updates will tell us more on that front.

Consequently, the percentage of unchanged REUL did drop, albeit by a modest 0.8%.

Progress on this remains highly uneven at Departmental level. The only units that have made very big advances have been some of those with the smallest totals (Cabinet Office, DfE, MoJ). This is likely to be less a reflection of political will as it is a function of the depth of entanglement of the Department in matters EU during membership: Steven Barclay is hardly a soft Brexiteer yet his Department of Health and Social Care has the highest percentage of unchanged REUL of any unit.

All of which is to say that as much as there is progress on REUL, it is not progress that looks compatible with the REUL Bill timetable. The new data simply highlights the need for a much more measured approach that is driven by operational requirements rather than things that sound good in a soundbite.

You can look at my full data file here, and naturally I’ll keep you posted about further developments.

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Tracking the TCA implementation and enforcement

Last week’s third anniversary of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU also means it’s the third anniversary of the Trade & Cooperation Agreement (TCA).

The TCA is the oddly overlooked counterpart of the Withdrawal Agreement (with its troublesome Protocol), oddly because it is the much more substantial treaty, structuring the full breadth of current relations and containing space to include pretty much all the future relations too.

Of course, such a significant text comes with a degree of complexity, which we’ve looked at before on the OUatEU blog (here and here, for example).

One part of that complexity comes from the changing situation over time: we still have a number of transitional arrangements in place (both by mutual agreement and by unilateral proclamation) and a raft of reviews and sunset clauses to come in the next years.

The graphics below set out all of this, together with references to relevant information. Sadly, there’s nowhere that has a definitive resource for TCA matters (unlike Queen’s excellent Protocol tracker); both the EU and UK have rather dispersed bits and no simple way to pick up all the non-hard law decisions. Maybe if there’s a clamour from you, the readers, I might get to making such a thing myself.

In the meantime, take in the notion that we already know some things that will be happening in 2035.

This post was brought to you via a request from someone who uses these for teaching: I’m always happy to take requests like this, so just pop me a line or put a comment below and I’ll see what I can do.

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Getting to grips with Retained EU Law

I will freely admit that I have shied away from getting into the whole question of Retained EU Law, primarily because it’s much more about law in the UK than it is about EU law per se. I know enough to know that I don’t know much.

However, the question is one that cannot be ignored.

Firstly, the extent of Retained EU Law is such that how it is dealt with will have significant consequences for British legal systems, UK businesses and politics. The Retained EU Law (Revocation & Reform) Bill gives huge powers to the government to make changes to rules within effective Parliamentary oversight, for example.

Secondly, the headlong rush to sunset rules by the end of 2023 contains significant implications for the UK’s compliance with its obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement and (especially) the Trade & Cooperation Agreement, the latter with its Level Playing Field requirements. Given that the UK government is still unclear as to quite what falls into the Retained EU Law classification, even their intentions are to comply, the danger of accidental divergence is evident.

And finally, the entire shift on the matter speaks to the continuing uncertainty about what relationship with the EU the UK might want.

Almost from the off after the referendum, there was a recognition that something would have to be done about all of the internalised and semi-internalised legislation (and practice) that came from the EU. Not just the regulations and the directives, but also the principles of supremacy and direct effect and the extensive case law of the CJEU.

Given the unclear boundaries of all of this, the only viable option at the time of the Withdrawal Agreement negotiations was the one taken by the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2018, which just rolled over the membership-era system created by the European Communities Act 1972 and let the government take its time over resolving matters.

As I’ve been showing in my REUL Tracker (last discussion here and data files here), there has been some work to review and adapt to life after membership, but at a rather slow pace. Perhaps as a mark of that slow pace, the fancy visualisation tool first published in September last year has just undergone a big reworking, making it now very hard to keep track of what’s happened [one for next week I think].

However, the EU(WA) Act approach clearly caused issues for some in government, hence the flip over to the new Bill.

This drops methodically working through the pile to saying that anything not explicitly addressed by the end of 2023 will be sunsetted (sunsat?), even as any general principle of EU law is also removed from the practice of law in the UK.

The issues with this approach are both multiple and major, as set out in the graphic below.  Even if liberal use of the ‘exceptional’ extension to 23 June 2026 (not an insignificant date) would still likely result in a large percentage of Retained EU Law being dropped without the level of scrutiny one might hope for (assuming that the civil servants and MPs involved might also have other things that need their attention).

The Bill’s approach speaks to a desire to divest the UK of any vestige of having been an EU member, regardless of whether any part of it might have intrinsic value: a measure’s EU origin is enough to make the presumption that it must be removed.

This is of course a worldview that resonates with the notion of ‘taking back control’ and of British otherness; only we can know what is right for us, only we can make decisions for us. As political sells go, it’s not the hardest banner to run on, at least in a campaigning mode.

But politics is also about governing: our shiny ideas quickly tarnish in the glare of day as we start to use them.

And so it is here. The Bill might make good headlines, but it doesn’t obviously make things better for citizens, for traders or for relations with the European Union that (annoyingly) continues to sit on the UK’s doorstep. As I touched upon the other week, we don’t get to make unilateral decisions about our relationships, however much we’d like that.

At a moment when the government seems (maybe, perhaps) to be working towards some kind of deal with the EU on Northern Ireland, it would be ironic if it simultaneously opened up a new point of tension over an issue that only it seems to think is an issue.



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