Retained EU Law

Retained EU law is a legal concept that emerged from the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union, commonly known as Brexit. This body of law encompasses EU legislation that was incorporated into UK domestic law to ensure continuity and stability post-Brexit. Here is a detailed explanation of retained EU law, its purpose, and its implications:

Retained EU law refers to the body of European Union legislation that was in force in the UK before Brexit and was subsequently retained as part of UK law after the transition period ended on December 31, 2020. This includes EU regulations, directives, decisions, and certain case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) that had direct effect or had been implemented into UK law.

The primary purpose of retained EU law is to ensure legal continuity and stability as the UK transitions from being an EU member state to an independent legal jurisdiction. By retaining EU law, the UK aimed to avoid legal vacuums and disruptions that could have resulted from the sudden cessation of EU-derived legal frameworks. This approach provided businesses, individuals, and public bodies with certainty and consistency in the immediate aftermath of Brexit.

Retained EU law is divided into several categories:

  1. Retained Direct EU Legislation: This includes EU regulations and decisions that were directly applicable in the UK before Brexit. These laws were converted into UK law to continue their effect.
  2. EU-Derived Domestic Legislation: This encompasses UK laws that implemented EU directives and other measures. These laws remain in force but can be amended or repealed by the UK Parliament.
  3. Retained EU Case Law: Decisions of the CJEU that were binding on the UK before Brexit are retained and continue to have relevance in interpreting retained EU law. However, UK courts have the authority to depart from this case law under certain conditions.
  4. General Principles of EU Law: Some general principles of EU law, such as proportionality and legal certainty, were retained to guide the interpretation of retained EU law.


While retained EU law provided immediate continuity, it is not immutable. The UK Parliament has the authority to amend, repeal, or replace retained EU law as deemed necessary. This legislative flexibility allows the UK to tailor its legal framework to better suit its national interests and priorities over time.

UK courts continue to play a crucial role in interpreting and applying retained EU law. Initially, UK courts were bound by existing CJEU case law, but they now have the discretion to depart from it where appropriate. Higher courts, such as the Supreme Court, have been granted the power to depart from retained EU case law, which allows for the development of a distinct UK legal interpretation over time.

The concept of retained EU law has faced several challenges and criticisms. One major challenge is the complexity of disentangling EU law from UK domestic law, given the extensive integration that occurred during the UK's EU membership. Additionally, there are concerns about legal certainty and the potential for divergence between UK and EU law, which could impact businesses and individuals operating across both jurisdictions.

The future of retained EU law is likely to involve gradual changes as the UK exercises its legislative sovereignty. The UK government has expressed intentions to review and reform retained EU law to better align with national policies and priorities. This process will involve careful consideration to balance the need for legal continuity with the desire for legal independence and innovation.

In summary, retained EU law represents a significant legal framework established to ensure continuity and stability following the UK's departure from the European Union. It includes various categories of EU-derived legislation and case law that continue to operate within the UK legal system. While providing immediate stability, retained EU law is subject to modification and repeal by the UK Parliament, allowing for the evolution of a distinct UK legal framework over time.

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