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EU Law: Relevance and Importance in the Post-Brexit UK

Updated: Mar 4

Written by Hao Tian

Introduction

It has been nearly four years since the UK officially withdrew from the European Union (EU), after 47 years of membership. Today, perhaps to one’s amazement (or amusement), you can still find law students poring over their EU Law textbooks across the law schools in the UK. The most obvious question to anyone who has a basic understanding of what Brexit means would be, as Professor Biondi helpfully raised in his first lecture here at King’s, “Why?” - Why should we still study the law of the European Union when the UK has ceased to be a part of it? This article will begin with a brief overview of the status of EU law in the UK’s domestic legal landscape during its time as a Member State, and proceed to propose two reasons for studying EU Law today.


EU law in the UK: Pre-Brexit

During the years of EU membership, certain substantive EU legal rights and obligations could be invoked directly before courts in the UK. The European Communities Act 1972 passed by the UK Parliament incorporated into the UK's domestic legal system EU legal sources such as Directives and judgments of the European Court of Justice, giving them overriding domestic effects. After Brexit, however, such a legal landscape has changed which deserves continued attention.



EU law in the UK: post-Brexit

One possible answer to the question raised at the beginning of this article is that certain EU legal sources are still applicable and binding in the post-Brexit UK and form part of the UK’s domestic law. The legal device that made this happen is the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act 2023 (the Retained EU Law Act). The former legislation created a body of EU laws which are carried over to the UK law after Brexit, while the latter, among other things, abolished some of these retained laws and renamed the remaining ones as ‘assimilated laws’ from 1 January 2024. Now we’ve started to get a picture of EU laws' relevance in the post-Brexit UK, but why is this important?


The aforementioned Acts affect how one interprets and applies laws in the UK. Because of the Retained EU Law Act, assimilated laws that used to require special treatment in interpretation so that it is in line with EU legal principles can now be interpreted in a traditional domestic way, which is relevant to law students in terms of how you argue your case on the proper interpretation of a statute in the current-day UK that used to be covered by EU legal principles; the changing legal landscape is also relevant to aspiring legal practitioners in terms of the regulatory advice concerning assimilated EU law areas that you provide to your clients operating across Europe.


From a more academic point of view, studying EU laws in the post-Brexit UK is beneficial to getting a grasp of the UK constitutional law. Many EU legal principles are tightly linked to and indeed influence the development of the UK’s constitutional doctrines. For instance, the twin doctrine of direct effect and supremacy of EU law as constructed by the European Court of Justice has influenced the debate revolving around the scope and substance of Parliamentary sovereignty, a fundamental UK constitutional principle. Studying EU Law will therefore equip you with a more sophisticated understanding of some of the constitutional debates in UK Public Law which on the surface are of domestic concern, but are actually rooted in or developed by its history with the EU.


 

Hao Tian is a first-year Law LLB student at King’s College London. In his post above, Hao discussed why studying EU Law is still relevant and indeed important to law students in the post-Brexit UK.

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