Deep concerns remain over Government plans to protect environmental and public health standards

19 January 2023, Ciaran Donaghy

The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) has expressed deep concern that the UK Government is failing to deliver firm commitments to protect public health an environmental standards as a result of the Retained EU Law Bill.

The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill progressed through the Report Stage and received its Third Reading in the House of Commons yesterday. Several opposition, backbench and cross-party amendments were tabled, many of which sought to secure reassurances that current standards the UK enjoys in food, environmental protection and occupational health and safety would be maintained. Several other amendments were tabled that would either remove entirely or push back the sunset date for retained EU law from December 2023 to 2026 to allow more time for parliamentary scrutiny and public consultation on which pieces of retained EU law is to be assimilated or repealed. 

While the UK Government has verbally expressed that vital standards in food, environmental protection and health and safety would be either maintained or enhanced, it failed to support several amendments that would have ensured that regulatory standards, such as food, environmental, and health and safety standards, would not be weakened due to the provisions in the Bill. 

There is also clear concern that amendments which would have removed or pushed back the arbitrary sunset date for retained EU law, were also rejected by the Government. 

CIEH has been strongly campaigning for a rethink of the sunsetting clause, alongside clear and binding commitments from Ministers to protect the UK’s public and environmental health standards. It joined several organisations in signing a joint letter to the Government, which gained national media attention, highlighting the belief that retaining the sunset date of December 2023 is arbitrary and reckless, and removes the ability for adequate public consultation and parliamentary scrutiny on which pieces of retained EU law will fall off the statute book. 

CIEH has recognised the need to review retained EU law to ensure that the UK’s regulatory standards are tailored and fit for purpose, and has welcomed the assurances given that vital regulatory standards will either be maintained or enhanced. However, the Government’s refusal to support amendments putting these assurances on a statutory footing has raised serious concern. 

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

“It is disappointing that the UK Government has, once again, failed to provide certainty that the Retained EU Law Bill will not weaken vital regulatory standards by not supporting some key amendments to this process. 

CIEH has also repeatedly urged the Government to reconsider their plans for an arbitrary sunset date whereby retained EU law, not assimilated into UK legislation by 31st December 2023, will simply fall off the UK statute book. Once again, we are frustrated by the Government’s failure to recognise that this deadline removes the ability for proper public consultation or parliamentary scrutiny. 

Having left the European Union, we fully appreciate the need for the UK to review its existing regulatory standards, and we look forward to working with the Government to ensure that vital standards are maintained as part of this process. 

However, the refusal to provide firm commitments that the intentions of this full review contained within the Retained EU Law Bill are not to water down or remove our protections has raised significant concern. 

CIEH, and our partners across the environmental and public health spheres will be holding the Government’s feet to the fire to ensure they live up to their words.” 

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