LONDON — Getting rid of EU law post-Brexit will be one of the biggest tasks in the civil service’s history and could be “extended over decades,” according to a Parliamentary law expert.
A House of Commons briefing paper published this week suggests that 5,000 EU laws apply to the UK and lawyer Daniel Greenberg, a former Parliamentary council and expert on legislative law, is quoted in the paper as saying that reviewing and amending all the legislation will be “a civil service legal exercise on a scale that has not been encountered at any other time in our recent legal history.”
Greenberg told Business Insider: “The size of the task stems from the fact that European Union law has come to effect almost every single area of domestic law in some way or another.
“The task starts by examining literally every piece of primary and subordinate legislation to determine whether and to what extent it reflects European Union requirements. Then you have to go about carrying out surgery on those pieces of law so as to preserve the domestic law and release the UK from its purely European obligation.”
The Government has pledged to sign all existing EU legislation that applies to Britain into UK law in its “Great Repeal Bill,” and will then decide which specific statutes and directives to get rid of.
The briefing paper says: “Laws will need to be ‘saved’ to ensure that they continue to operate until the Government (and Parliament?) decides what to do with them (which will depend largely on the outcome of the EU-UK withdrawal negotiations and the UK’s future relationship with the EU).”
Pro-Brexit Tory MP Grant Shapps has suggested a “sunset clause” in the Great Repeal Bill that will automatically kill all EU laws five years after the bill is passed.
But Greenberg told BI that the process could take decades and is highly unlikely to be completed within the two-year Brexit negotiating window that begins once Article 50 is triggered.
He said: “It could go on for a very long time. First, it depends what sort of settlement we come to with the European Union, because it may be that we continue to require the implementation of a lot of European law for some time. It could be that the process is extended over decades.”
A trade deal with the EU could require British companies to adhere to EU standards, for example, and this would effectively mean following EU law. If it has been signed into British law, it would make sense simply to let it stand.
Greenberg added: “That apart, there will be areas that are not high-priority and the European Union influence is limited and it would be left for quite some time without it causing anybody any particular inconvenience.
“What will happen now is a process of prioritisation: the bits that people really care about will be dealt with within the two years and some of the rest could be left for years.”
Theresa May has repeatedly signalled that her Brexit priorities are to regain control of immigration, which would likely mean leaving the European Single Market and ending Freedom of Movement, and getting Britain out from under the control of the European Court of Justice.
Greenberg said EU law would likely “gradually unravel over the months and years to come.”
The government’s own lawyers have already hinted at the mammoth task facing the government post-Brexit. James Eadie QC said attempts to transpose decades of EU laws into UK law will provide “years of entertainment” in unguarded comments during the Supreme Court case on the triggering of Article 50.
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