Standing up for environmental health protections in the face of deregulation

05 October 2022, Ross Matthewman, Head of Policy and Campaigns, CIEH

A bird's-eye view of a coastal city

There is no doubt that the political landscape has undergone yet another seismic upheaval over the last few weeks. As the Conservative Party leadership rumbled on throughout the summer various accusations of inactivity in the face of growing concerns around energy bills and the cost of living suggested nothing of the future direction proposed by the new administration.

Although Liz Truss became the early favourite to take the crown, becoming both Leader of the Party and our country’s new Prime Minister, there had been no real harbinger of the deregulatory ambitions during her pitch to the country. A pledge to reverse the significant tax rises planned by the previous administration in the form of both National Insurance contributions and Corporation Tax spoke only of a desire to reduce the burden of tax on people and businesses in the face of rampant inflation.

There had been vague noises from some of the new Prime Minister’s supporters over the summer about the need for a change of economic policy and for the UK to become more competitive. However, a full onslaught on scores of regulations sweeping right across vital areas from food to our environment was considered both too dangerous to be attempted and politically unpalatable.

This illusion has been shattered by the publication of The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill 2022.

Heralded by the UK Government as a way to effectively draw a line under Brexit, put the UK statute book on a more sustainable footing, and end the special status of retained EU Law, it is being championed as a final herculean effort to reclaim the sovereignty of Parliament and restore primacy to Acts of Parliament.

Step away from the political rhetoric and the reality becomes quite alarming.

There seems to be real danger that this bill puts at risk the high standards our country has with respect to environmental health. It threatens our regulatory frameworks in crucial areas such as food and environmental protection and will have negative consequences for public health.

One of the most alarming clauses of the bill is its wholesale sunsetting of most of retained EU law by 31 December 2023, whereby these standards and protections would fall away from domestic law and no longer apply. Such a clause carries a very real risk that vital law on which the smooth functioning of sectors of the economy and society depends, simply drops off the UK statute book.

CIEH has taken swift action. Last week, we embarked on an engagement programme with MPs and Peers from across the political spectrum, setting out our concerns and asking for their support in raising the key issues within both the Houses of Commons and Lords, and also directly with government. As a result, we are now working with over 20 parliamentarians to table a series of parliamentary questions seeking to clarify the Government’s position and to ensure that they are fully aware of the repercussions of their proposed course of action. Alongside this we are drafting letters for supportive parliamentarians to send to the Businesses Secretary, Jacob Rees-Mogg MP. Notably, we have also created a coalition of Peers primed to table amendments to the Bill if and when it reaches the House of Lords.

Given the level of concern across all political parties, including substantial disquiet on their own backbenches, it is questionable the whether the Bill will make progress in its current state. The new administration is already finding life difficult, but we will be ready if they are set on pushing on.

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