Sunsetting in Retained EU Law Bill poses deep challenge to UK food, environment, and public health standards

22 November 2022, Ciaran Donaghy

CIEH has expressed concern that the UK Government’s new The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill 2022 could see many regulations protecting our country’s food, environment, and public health, simply disappear.

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, the Bill is being presented as an effort to reclaim the sovereignty of Parliament and restore primacy to Acts of Parliament.

In its written evidence to the Public Bill Committee, CIEH expressed deep concerns around plans contained in the Bill to “sunset” 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.

With the UK no longer being a member of the European Union, CIEH has acknowledged the opportunities to review our country’s existing regulatory frameworks and ensure they are tailored to the UK’s needs. Committed to constructively working with government where possible to support efforts to review existing frameworks, CIEH has also expressed support for the potential introduction of a new Food and Feed Bill, promoting the role of its members in helping shape new regulatory frameworks and building on the UK’s world-leading environmental health standards.

However, alongside a very real concern around a timeframe that appears arbitrary and reckless, CIEH has also set out the challenges the Bill poses to the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. There remains a great deal of clarification required on how the law will apply to Northern Ireland, with fears that without significantly greater resources for port inspections and inland local authorities, the movement of illegal goods into Northern Ireland could significantly increase.

Considering these challenges there is a clear opportunity for Environmental Health Professionals to take a greater role in inspecting products of animal origin at UK ports. Previously hindered by EU regulations, there is now scope to better utilise the expertise of environmental health professionals across the country.

Ross Matthewman, Head of Policy and Campaigns at CIEH, said:

“Our response to this bill has been clear from the start: any review of our regulatory frameworks should see environmental health standards maintained or enhanced.

We acknowledge that as we are no longer a member of the EU, there is now an opportunity to review the way in which we have regulated food, environmental protection, and health and safety. However, any review needs to be well considered and planned for in advance in close consultation with key stakeholders with sufficient time to scrutinise the process.

This is not what is on offer with this bill. Aiming to sunset rafts of EU-derived regulation by December 2023 is a regressive approach that puts legislative review on a timer. Such an approach makes any review process reactive rather than proactive and is not an approach we support.

CIEH wants to work closely with the UK Government, and other key stakeholders, in holding proactive review processes of our regulatory frameworks, to come up with innovative, tailored solutions to how we can improve upon our already existing high standards of environmental health.

However, while we do want to take a proactive and supportive approach to this review process, we must express our concerns on the impact this bill may have on the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The Bill risks making this already fraught issue even more so, heightens the possibility of criminal behaviour, and may even prevent certain products from even being allowed entry into Northern Ireland.”

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