Mick Antoniw, Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution
The Minister of State for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency, the Rt Hon. Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, published, on 22 June, an interactive dashboard of retained EU law (REUL).
This is the body of law created when EU law was converted into domestic law, at the end of the transition period, and amended appropriately to provide continuity and certainty for businesses and people. The Welsh Government played a full role in that work and evidence in the 18 months since the end of transition indicates that REUL has functioned well to give that continuity and certainty.
In contrast to the collaborative work between the UK Government and the Devolved Governments to create the body of REUL, prior to publication we were given a very limited opportunity to view the dashboard, which is unacceptable. The dashboard contains no information about which instruments of REUL are in devolved areas, despite requests for this being made by the Devolved Governments, or what legislation made in Wales could be affected by the UK Government’s wider proposals to amend, repeal or replace all REUL. It is of vital importance for the people and businesses of Wales that any proposals to change REUL are fully assessed and considered in the constitutional context of the devolved settlements before any decisions are made, including respecting the provisions and ways of working reflected in agreed common frameworks. We continue to call on the UK Government to ensure that REUL in devolved areas is clearly identified as a matter of priority, and that more broadly its future actions properly respect devolved responsibilities and live up to its commitments through common frameworks.
I am also deeply concerned that this exercise is the first step in amending and deregulating REUL under the forthcoming “Brexit Freedoms Bill”. The Welsh Government has consistently made it clear that any proposals to deregulate in a way that could reduce the important social and environmental protections and high product standards that consumers and workers in Wales have come to expect are not acceptable. This could also represent a significant resource implication for the Welsh Government at a time when our focus needs to be on more important matters.
The imposition of the UK Internal Market Act, without the consent of the Senedd, and subject to the outcome of the legal challenge, presents further significant concerns that, should the UK Government deregulate in a way which is contrary to Welsh Ministers’ aims to maintain high standards, we could, consequently, have to accept in Wales products made elsewhere to lower standards. This position is entirely unacceptable, and we will continue to fight any moves to force us into a race to the bottom.
I note that Mr Rees-Mogg, as part of his statement to MPs about the dashboard, made a commitment, stating “where there are devolved consequences from laws coming back from the European Union the powers to amend will be with the devolved authorities”. The Welsh Government will scrutinise the Bill – which, again, we have not yet seen – to ensure that this commitment is matched by the detailed provisions in the Bill, and that the Bill fully respects the devolution settlement in Wales.
Regrettably, the nature of this announcement and the inadequate engagement with the Devolved Governments appear to be part of a wider trend of unacceptable behaviour from the UK Government. It comes on the back of its Northern Ireland Protocol Bill and a number of other Bills on which there has been no or little meaningful attempt to work with the Devolved Governments before an announcement is made. The UK Government needs to realise the damage that it is doing to the constitution of the United Kingdom through its actions and change course. It should also focus more on responding to the cost-of-living crisis and other immediate priorities that could bring tangible benefit to people’s lives, rather than committing extensive resources to administrative and ideological exercises such as this.