Seven years and counting after the UK voted to leave the EU, the impact on the UK’s legislative and regulatory frameworks is still being thrashed out, with real ramifications for law firm clients.
When the UK Government last year announced its landmark intention to “sunset” all retained EU laws on 31st December 2023, under the so-called “Brexit Freedoms Bill” (or Retained EU Law Bill, also known as REUL), around 4,800 EU rules were thought to be affected1. Fast-forward to mid-2023 and the list of EU regulations slated to be reviewed or abandoned under REUL was slashed to just 600.
Some see this as a missed opportunity to ease the “red tape burden.” Others as a sensible move to focus reform efforts.
But what does all this really mean for clients, and how can lawyers best advise them when the situation is still shifting so dramatically?
What is the Brexit Freedoms Bill?
Setting out its rationale behind the Bill, the Government said that all EU legislation would be amended, repealed or replaced by the end of 2023, in order to give “the UK the opportunity to develop new laws that best fit the needs of the country and grow the economy.” Its aim was to remove “EU regulation in favour of a more agile, home-grown regulatory approach.”
However, the scale of the undertaking and the practicalities involved caused considerable debate. In May 2023, a slimmed-down list of around 600 laws now due to be revoked through the Brexit Freedoms Bill was published, with another 500 scheduled to be rescinded under the Financial Services and Markets Bill and the Procurement Bill. To date, over 1,000 EU laws have already been repealed or reformed since Brexit, according to Government figures.
Nevertheless, further changes could still be on the cards. In a statement, the Government said it “will continue to review the remaining REUL not already revoked or reformed, or planned for revocation this year, to identify further opportunities for reform. The REUL Bill contains the necessary powers to allow for this ongoing process of reform.”
What are the implications for law firms and their clients?
While reducing red tape was welcomed in many quarters, some commentators pointed out that sunsetting all EU laws at once could have created a high degree of uncertainty over what would replace them. Others warned of major implications for the use of case law precedents in court decisions and highlighted the risk of causing issues around compliance with international obligations.
Does that mean that there is now more certainty for law firms and their clients and fewer challenges to grapple with? Well, not exactly. In essence, although the plans have been scaled back, the door has been left open for further reforms. Theoretically, more laws could be in the Government’s sights for potential amendment or repeal at any time after the end of this year. Moreover, there’s the risk that some of the potential concerns outlined above remain.
Whatever the merits or otherwise of these developments, the fact is that many pieces of regulation are set to change, across a variety of policy areas and sectors, and it will be up to businesses and the law firms who advise them to stay abreast of what rules are changing, how and when.
Law firms: Where to go next
As of June of 2023, the Bill is still going through Parliament, so more revisions are to be expected before it’s granted Royal Assent. For law firms and their clients, the key is to get as much clarity and visibility as possible over all the various incoming changes so that businesses are always on the front foot to guarantee continued compliance as they rate day-to-day and as they plan future strategies. That’s not going to be easy, as the UK’s divergence from EU rules is clearly something of a movable feast.
For more tips and guidance on how to meet this task with confidence, read our recent post: “Navigating and unlocking opportunities in the post-Brexit legal landscape.”