THE UK Government’s planned bonfire of Brexit laws is an “appalling piece of lawmaking” which is “constitutionally wholly inappropriate,” MSPs have been told. 

At a Holyrood committee, the Retained EU Law Bill was described as “seeking to do the impossible,” by the former Permanent Secretary at the Department for Exiting the EU.

Philip Rycroft was also critical of the UK Internal Market Act calling it a “step too far.”

The comments came as the Scottish Parliament’s Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee took evidence on the impact of Brexit on devolution. 

READ MORE: Forbes most popular candidate in SNP leadership race with the public

A raft of former senior civil servants lined up to criticise Rishi Sunak’s plan to scrap at least 3,800 laws carried over from the UK’s 47-year membership of the EU.

The UK Government’s self-imposed sunset clause means that ministers only have until the end of next year to go through all the European legislation on the statute books.

Mr Rycroft said the legislation was “seeking to do the impossible.”

He said: “I can not see how the UK Government has the time, the space to work through this great body of law in good order to allow sensible decision making on what should apply and what should not apply.”

He said the key to good legislation was to go “through a process of engagement, consultation, understanding the interests of different parties, in relation to that regulation.” 

“There is simply not time and space to do that,” Mr Rycroft added. “So frankly, words almost fail me in respect of this bill. It does seem to me it is seeking to do the impossible and in and amongst its impacts, of course, is the impact on the devolved competencies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and untangling all of that in the time that is available, again, seems to me to be asking too much. 

“It is an extraordinary piece of legislation that they're embarked on. And one, which I see very, very little benefit in.”

READ MORE: No now nine points ahead of Yes in new independence poll

Professor Hugh Rawlings, who served as the Welsh government’s director for constitutional affairs between 2004 and 2020 went further, describing the Bill as “performative.”

He said the legislation allowed the deadline to be extended by two years, however if this is triggered this would mean that all EU law would need to be either revised, replaced or rejected by 23 June 2026. 


The civil servant pointed out that there were elections for the devolved administrations in May 2026, with Senedd and the Scottish Parliament rising at the end of March 2026. 

“Why was that date chosen? Well, the minister said, in admission of this performative government, it just happens to be 10 years from the date of the referendum and, by implication, no, we didn't give a moment's thought to the devolved institutions, their elections and how they might do this. 

“I'm sorry if I have overstepped the mark, but it's something I feel really quite strongly about.

“This is an appalling piece of legislation. And certainly, I think, in terms of both what I have said, and in terms of the powers that it confers on ministers to change the law in respect of a category of regulation that the government is incapable of defining, it simply doesn't know how far this goes. 

“This makes a mockery of taking back control and asserting parliamentary sovereignty. This is about ministerial lawmaking on an extraordinary scale. And it's constitutionally wholly, utterly inappropriate.”

Professor Jim Gallagher, the director general for devolution at the Cabinet Office between 2007-2011, said he agreed. 

“However, the question is what is to be done about it? It seems quite likely that this law will be pursued by the present administration in London. 

“There are three possibilities it seems to me, and first is it's time for the House of Lords to earn their corn. They can delay legislation. The last time they got so excited about delaying legislation was in relation to foxhunting. This matters a bit more. 

“So two years will be fine. Thank you. Even one year would help. That's the first possibility.

“The second possibility is that, and this is a much more political one, the opposition should set out its position on what it will do if it becomes a government and this law has passed.

“And that position might well be that a set of retrospective legislation should be prepared to give personal certainty ones on one electoral outcome. 

“That possibility, which relates to this institution and indeed to the Senedd in Wales, is that two can play at that game. What we've seen is a piece of legislation which disapplies all sorts of laws. Well, you could have one that reapplies them.”

“It's time for a bit of imagination,” he added, “because this is a piece of nonsense.”

READ MORE: Glasgow bank founded by Clyde Blowers chief Jim McColl secures licence

There was broad consensus that legal protections for devolved legislatures should be strengthened. following Brexit, MSPs have heard.

Professor Gallagher, a former senior civil servant and academic, said the Sewel convention should be given statutory force.

This convention requires the UK Government to seek a Legislative Consent Motion from MSPs before legislating on devolved areas.


The professor said he thought the Internal Market Act - which seeks to regulate trade between the four UK nations - was an “error.”

"It's important from a purely Scottish perspective, to remember that the internal market of the UK does matter for Scotland. And that regulatory divergence for its own sake, isn't something to be sought out just because you can do it. The question is, what you're seeking to achieve.

"And what's quite interesting for me in that context is that it is actually possible to run an effective market with well managed regulatory divergence. We managed it for approximately 300 years."

"The consequence, in my view, of this particular and a couple of other interventions by recent UK Governments, it does, I think, leave the argument for strengthening the Sewell Convention unanswerable." 

The SNP's Alasdair Allan said he was surprised by how forthright the civil servants were in their evidence. 

“We were hearing mainly from former senior civil servants today, so I expected the language to be cautious. 

"However, it was very clear that the experts in front of the committee viewed the UK Government’s EU Retained Law Bill as utterly unworkable and impossible to justify.

"One witness even made clear his view that an anticipated 2024 election and naked Brexit politics were the only considerations that lay behind this piece of wrecking legislation.

"Apart from concerns about the scarcely imaginable amount of government time that would need to be devoted to repealing and replacing thousands of laws, it was clear from a number of the witnesses today that they viewed this Bill as a wholesale grab of power by UK ministers.”