By: Barney Thompson, Legal Correspondent
A further 1,260 rules might be applicable by the point of departure in March 2019
More than 700 new EU laws have been introduced into the UK since the Brexit referendum, highlighting the scale and complexity of the task facing the government when it begins the process of deciding which European legislation to keep or scrap.
On average, 60 EU regulations and directives have been added to the British statute book every month since June 2016, according to research by the legal division of Thomson Reuters.
That adds to the estimated 19,000 EU regulations, directives and other rules that are already part of UK law.
If that rate continues until the end of March 2019, the anticipated time of Britain’s departure from the EU, a further 1,260 European laws will have become applicable in the UK by the point of Brexit.
“While we’re negotiating an exit [from the EU], the amount of legislation arising out of our membership is increasing all the time,” said Daniel Greenberg, counsel for domestic legislation in the House of Commons. “More water is flowing into the tub at the same time as we are getting ready to pull the plug.”
The number and range of European laws introduced since the Brexit referendum illustrates the potential for some of these regulations and directives to pose obstacles during the UK’s negotiations to leave the EU.
According to Thomson Reuters, the new laws touch on a huge variety of matters, from management of deep-sea fish stocks in the Atlantic to expanded sanctions against North Korea.
The day after Brexit takes effect the European Communities Act 1972 is due to be repealed, stopping EU law from applying to the UK, according to a white paper on the government’s planned Great Repeal Bill.
This bill aims to transpose all EU laws on to the UK statute book, in order to avoid a legislative “black hole” and ensure what David Davis, the Brexit secretary, has called a “calm and orderly exit”.
The idea is that parliament will then be able to decide whether to amend or scrap some of the EU laws that have been enshrined in domestic legislation — a task that is likely to take decades.
Some longstanding EU laws, such as the directives on working time and renewable energy, are expected to be particular targets for Eurosceptic MPs and peers.
But the flow of new measures from Brussels identified by the Thomson Reuters research will add to the volume of legislation that parliament will have to choose whether to change or abolish.
The Great Repeal Bill — widely considered one of the largest legislative projects ever undertaken in the UK — is expected to be part of Wednesday’s Queen’s Speech.
The Thomson Reuters research also highlights just how quickly legislation in the UK and the EU is likely to diverge.
Only months after the point of Brexit, the EU is expected to have implemented hundreds of new laws that will not apply in the UK unless their continued application forms part of any trade deal agreed between the two sides.
“The challenge for the government’s Brexit teams is to complete the task [of exiting the EU] by March 29 2019, with the body of EU law growing all the time, and with the final desired outcome depending on the constantly shifting expected shape of the deal,” said Mr Greenberg.
Charles Brasted, a partner at Hogan Lovells, said the body of EU law, known as the acquis, was “always going to be a moving target”, adding it was likely that some European policies would prove more problematic than others to implement in UK legislation.
“But given the totality of the arrangement built up over 40-plus years, the volume [of new EU laws since the Brexit referendum] is not of itself material,” he added. “What is material is that [the acquis] is dynamic and that the substance of some of the new laws could be significant.”
A spokesperson for the Brexit department said: “We have been clear that we are a full member of the European Union until the day we leave and will continue to respect the rights and obligations of EU membership and engage with day-to-day EU business.”
The Great Repeal Bill would “enable our statute book to function on the day we leave the EU”, it added.
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