Campaigners from Cambridge for Europe, a branch of the European Movement UK, took part in a nationwide action day last Saturday. There were street stalls and events in more than 30 cities and towns throughout the country. Activists were protesting the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill (REUL), referred to by some as the ‘Brexit Bonfire Bill’ currently making its way through Parliament. It is seen by both the Opposition and campaigners as dangerous and anti-democratic.
At their stall in Market Square, Cambridge for Europe activists called on people in the area and beyond to contact their local MP and demand that the Bill be dropped. The REUL bill includes a sunset clause that will automatically abolish nearly 4,000 laws and standards that were agreed upon during the UK’s almost 50 years of EU membership, unless ministers choose to retain them. However, with a deadline of 31 December 2023, the resources needed to go through each law, one by one and make a thorough assessment within that time would grind the civil service to a halt.
Unprecedented power to ministers
Additionally, the bill gives ministers the power to replace these laws without consulting those affected and without proper parliamentary scrutiny, raising concerns about a potential weakening of rights, standards, and legal protections.
The campaigners argue that the REUL bill could lead to the dismantling of important regulations and standards related to the environment and food quality and workers’ rights, and could further slow the UK’s already sluggish economy.
According to law firm Simmons and Simmons, employment rights under threat include: “entitlement of 20 days’ annual leave, family friendly rights, protections from dismissal where employment is transferred or outsourced, maternity, pregnancy, part-time and fixed term worker protections and certain health and safety requirements.”
If the bill is passed, it could also lower UK goods standards to below EU levels, making trade with the EU more difficult and violating the terms of the post-Brexit Trade and Cooperation Agreement. This, in turn, could lead to a trade war and make it harder to implement the Northern Ireland Protocol, exacerbating tensions created by Brexit.
Brexit time bomb
Paul Browne, Chair of Cambridge for Europe, says the bill is a “time bomb that threatens to unleash chaos at the end of this year.” He added that organisations as diverse as the CBI, TUC, RSPB, and the British Safety Council have all warned of the dangers posed by the bill. He also expressed concern that conducting a thorough review of the nearly 4,000 laws covered by the bill in just a few months would be a “shocking waste of civil servants’ time” when the UK is facing multiple crises.
“If the Government wishes to change retained EU laws,” Browne says, “they should only do so after genuine consultation with the businesses, trade unions, and communities that will be affected, and after debate in Parliament. After all, wasn’t this what “take back control” was supposed to mean? The last thing the UK needs is for important changes to the law that will affect millions of people to be rushed through in furtive haste, but that is exactly what this Bill in its current form will do.”
“Save our standards”
The European Movement is calling on the government to drop the REUL bill, though that is unlikely. At the very least they would like to see the government provide a legally binding guarantee that standards won’t drop, a commitment to retaining or improving key legislation on wildlife protection, animal welfare, employment rights, environmental protections, food standards, and more, and removal of all clauses that allow ministers to change the law without adequate democratic and parliamentary scrutiny.
Cambridge for Europe found passers-by at their street stall voted unanimously that standards should not fall as a result of the REUL Bill. The campaigners also encouraged people to sign a European Movement online petition to ‘Act Now: Save our Standards’.
The REUL Bill is currently on its second reading in the House of Lords.
This article is based in a press release from Cambridge for Europe.