The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill - What does it mean for consumer law?
Many UK consumer laws originate from European law. Following the UK’s departure from the EU, the government wanted to provide legal continuity and certainty and to allow consumers to retain the benefit of such EU derived laws. This was achieved through Retained EU law, a form of domestic law, that was created to preserve the law of the UK following Brexit.
However, the goal of Brexit was for the UK to re-establish itself as a truly independent nation and there is a strong political view that to fully achieve this the UK needs to remove all traces of EU law from the statute book. The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill (“Bill”), that we discuss in this article, is hoping to achieve this – to repeal the principle of supremacy of retained EU law from UK law.
Under the Bill most retained EU legislation will be revoked on the 31 December 2023 (commonly referred to as the ‘Sunset Date’) unless Members of Parliament either:
- agree to a delay (in which case, the ‘Sunset Date’ will be a date no later than 23 June 2026); or
- take steps to assimilate it into UK domestic law.
What is the impact of the Bill on consumer Law?
The Bill could have a huge impact on the consumer sector given that, unless expressly retained into UK domestic law, most retained EU legislation will be revoked or replaced with substitute legislation. This would cover a number of core consumer laws, including the following notable regulations:
- the General Product Safety Regulations 2005;
- the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008;
- the Consumer Rights (Payment Surcharges) Regulations 2012; and
- the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013.
At the moment, there is no indication as to whether these laws will be retained, revoked, or replaced but the impact on vital consumer law could be vast (changes to product safety, food safety and consumer rights, amongst others). However, we do not believe that the Bill will result in more regulation from a consumer perspective – if anything, we anticipate that ministers will be treading a careful line between not increasing the regulatory burden on businesses whilst also retaining important protection that UK consumers have grown accustomed to. This is also because replacing the legislation by the ‘Sunset Date’ of the 31 December 2023 is an almost insurmountable task.
There is also a concern that due to the short timetable imposed for completing this task there will be a missed opportunity to update consumer laws in the UK. The UK has historically looked to Europe for guidance on how to interpret EU-derived consumer protection laws where there have been gaps or uncertainty. With the UK distancing itself even further from EU laws and the sunset date rapidly approaching, there doesn’t seem to be much time for the UK to take this opportunity to plug those perceived gaps.
Recommendations to clients
Given the concerns raised by regulators and non-regulated bodies regarding the impact of both wholesale revocation and hastily updated legislation, it is likely that there could be significant changes to how the Bill progresses. Our advice to clients is therefore to watch this space. We don’t yet know which laws will be retained, revoked or replaced however you can monitor this by using the government’s Dashboard (UK Government - Retained EU Law Dashboard Tableau Public), which contains a list of the impacted legislation and its current status.
We will be discussing this article in further detail as part of our “Brexit Bonfire” podcast series. To discuss the origins of the Bill and the proposals that are being looked at by Members of Parliament, including the all-important ‘Sunset Date’, please click here to listen to other episodes in “The Brexit Bonfire” podcast series Shoosmiths Podcasts a podcast by Shoosmiths (podbean.com).
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