Brexit timing clarified: employment law set to continue intact

The Conservative Party Conference has provided Theresa May, and her Government, with an opportunity to publicise their plans for the timing of Brexit.

In her speech to the Conference on 2 October,  the Prime Minster announced that –

  • Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty will be invoked by the end of March 2017, triggering the start of the UK’s formal withdrawal from the European Union.  At that point, the two year period of negotiations between the EU and the UK, to design the exit agreement, will commence. The UK will leave the Union by March 2019 (absent an agreed extension).
  • In the next Queen’s Speech, which will be in either April or May 2017,  a Great Repeal Bill will be introduced, to come into force on the date on which the UK actually leaves the EU.

Despite its rather grand name, the bill is simply a device to enable the Government to manage the process of separating UK law from EU law,  where it decides that this is necessary.   The bill will repeal the European Community Act 1972, the UK law that currently gives supremacy to EU law, and at the same time,  will convert all existing EU law into UK law.

This means that, as at the date of Brexit,  there will be no immediate end to the applicability in the UK of EU derived laws,  including employment laws.   Instead,  they will remain intact and in place,  with the Government/Parliament then able to decide whether to retain or repeal or amend them at their leisure, post Brexit.

For more information on and analysis of the Great Repeal Bill,  click here.

In terms of what these announcements mean for UK employment law,  it remains the case that there is no immediate change.  The plan is for EU derived employment laws to remain in place at Brexit and will continue until repealed or changed.   In fact, it appears that there may be no Brexit-related change for quite some time, if at all,  given that Theresa May also used her Conference speech  to announce that, “existing workers’ legal rights will continue to be guaranteed in law,  and they will be guaranteed as long as I am Prime Minister”.   This has been confirmed by David Davis, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union,  who recently announced to Parliament that, “[the Great Repeal Act] will provide for a calm and orderly exit and give as much certainty as possible to employers, investors, consumers and workers.  And we have been clear,  UK employment law already goes further than EU law in many areas – and this Government will do nothing to undermine those rights in the workplace”. For a recent House of Commons briefing paper on “Brexit and Employment Law”,  click here.

It seems,  therefore, that businesses hoping that Brexit might provide an opportunity for rules on, for example, agency workers,  holiday pay or discrimination compensation to be revisited could be disappointed in the short tem.    This does not mean, however, that Theresa May’s Premiership will be a quiet time for employers. Announcements over recent weeks indicate that topics in which the Government is interested include both worker representation on company boards and the interaction between the regulatory framework surrounding employment and modern business models. The suggestion is that new regulation in these areas may be in the offing.