After the UK voted in favour of Brexit in the historic 2016 referendum, the European Union continued to sign off legislation that had to immediately be followed by Britain as it remained a member of the bloc. Research carried out by Thomson Reuters in June 2017, a year after the referendum result, found that more than 700 new EU laws had been introduced in the year following the UK’s decision to leave. That meant on average, around 60 EU regulations and directives had been added to the British statute book every month.
At the time, the UK was already obliged to follow the existing 19,000 EU regulations, directives and other rules that were part of UK law.
While there are no figures recorded all the way to Brexit day on January 31, if that average was maintained, the UK would have been following an extra 2580 European laws up until that point.
The researchers found that the new laws related to a wide range of issues, including deep-sea fish stocks in the Atlantic to expanded sanctions against North Korea.
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This has potentially made Boris Johnson’s post-Brexit job even more complicated, as the British Government decided early on in the process that after leaving, it would carry with it the existing EU laws to avoid a legislative “black hole” that would be left if they were all immediately abandoned.
This allows Parliament to then decide which laws to keep and which to scrap after leaving the bloc.
Given the sheer amount of laws, this could take decades to complete – and the process won’t have been helped by the added laws and regulations over the last three-and-a-half-years.
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Daniel Greenberg, counsel for domestic legislation in the House of Commons said in June 2017: “While we’re negotiating an exit [from the EU], the amount of legislation arising out of our membership is increasing all the time.
“More water is flowing into the tub at the same time as we are getting ready to pull the plug.”
However, if the EU’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier is to have his way, the UK may yet be obliged to continue following many laws from Brussels.
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Published in February, Mr Barnier’s Brexit plans stated that quota-free access to EU markets was dependent on the inclusion of “a mechanism to uphold the high standards we have on social, environmental, tax, and state aid matters today and in their future developments”.
Mr Johnson has hit back by saying that there is “no need” to follow Brussels’ rules.
He also said that if Mr Barnier thwarts his proposal for a Canada-style free trade agreement, he could instead pursue a deal like Australia’s.
The Prime Minister added: “I have no doubt that in either case the UK will prosper mightily”.