24 Feb 2023 4 min read

What the Retained EU Law Bill means for UK environmental policy

By Alexander Burr

An effective regulatory framework is a prerequisite for progress on protecting nature.

This article was co-authored by Helena Wright, Policy Director at FAIRR


Over the last few months, the EU Retained Law Bill has been going through the UK Parliament. The Bill, sometimes called the ‘Bonfire Bill’, would see remaining EU laws scrapped or reformed by the end of the year, and has far-reaching implications for environmental law in the UK.

This comes shortly after the international community – including the UK – agreed the Global Biodiversity Framework at the UN’s COP15 biodiversity conference, with the aim of protecting nature by 2050.

The Bill has already passed the House of Commons and is now in the Lords. As noted in the Financial Times, business groups, legal experts, civil servants, trade unions and conservation groups have raised concerns about the speed of implementation, opportunity to scrutinise and potential confusion surrounding the Bill.

Without clarity from the Government on which laws will not be retained, we feel there is a risk that the regulatory framework in the UK will be at odds with the Government’s international and domestic commitments on Nature and Climate. We implore the Government to provide clarity as to which laws will be repealed, replaced, or removed entirely. This must be an opportunity to take positive steps to accelerate collective efforts to protect nature and our environment.

Why does this matter to investors?

The bill has potentially far-reaching consequences for investors due to the impact it could have on the environment, which in turn has a huge impact on all aspects of the economy.

As it stands, the Bill will effectively weaken the legislative environment and undermine vital investor stewardship projects such as FAIRR’s collaborative Working Conditions and Biodiversity Waste & Pollution engagements. This once again highlights the need for global policy dialogue from the investment community.

Concerns raised by businesses, as noted by Nick Molho at Aldersgate Group, include a risk that “in its current form, the Bill could result in disposing of a very large body of EU-derived environmental legislation without adequate parliamentary scrutiny”.

In addition, the reform seems to assume regulation is bad for business, when Nick Molho notes that businesses often see environmental regulations as “a source of innovation, investment and job creation”. It has been noted that businesses and investors do not see regulations as a de facto barrier to investment; it is how regulations are developed and implemented which matters most.

What are the potential environmental implications?

Almost half of the 4,000 rules and regulations the bill covers fall under the remit of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (see chart below).


The graph below, derived from the Retained EU Law dashboard, shows the laws by sub-sector and demonstrates that the majority of the EU-derived laws relate to areas such as agriculture and rural development, animal and plant health, aquaculture and marine, as well as biosecurity and import controls.


Mitigating nature-related risks necessitates immediate, large-scale action, but concerns have nonetheless been expressed about the short timeline and limited resources given to the Bill.

As an example, legislation covering pollution and water quality, both key challenges in the UK that are attracting increasing public and government scrutiny, could change significantly as a result of the Bill. With such a short timeline, stakeholders, civil servants and parliament may have insufficient time and resources to fully scrutinise and implement changes. 

The Bill also includes a ‘cliff-edge’ or ‘sunset’ clause for some areas of legislation. This means ‘non-reserved’ legislation not converted into UK law or revoked by the end of 2023 will automatically expire.

A critical moment

It remains to be seen how this Bill will be amended as it passes through the House of Lords, but it is clear that it potentially poses a significant risk for the environment.

The international and domestic policy and regulatory environment must support efforts to protect nature and the environment, not weaken them.

As mentioned, we implore the UK government to provide greater clarity as to the specific legislation that will be repealed, replaced or removed. The UK must implement a strong and ambitious policy and regulatory framework, aligning with our international and domestic commitments on Nature and Climate. There must be sufficient time and resources to allow appropriate scrutiny to help ensure successful implementation of this strong and ambitious framework.

Alexander Burr

ESG Policy Lead

Alexander joined in 2019 and leads LGIM's ESG policy engagement across markets. Prior to this, he helped establish an impact fund that uses blended finance to invest in emerging markets. Before that, Alexander negotiated blended finance investments at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to support sustainable economic growth across Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and North Africa. He has held roles advising governments on alternative finance and established a nuclear safeguards organisation. Alexander holds a BSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Southampton, and further education at LSE, ICSA, CISL, and Birkbeck.

Alexander Burr