“Can [the Prime Minister] tell us why, next week, this House will discuss legislation that will abolish vital protections on pension payouts, our right to watch the Olympics free of charge and airline consumer laws? How is any of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill in the British interest?”
During Prime Minister’s Questions on 19 October, Labour MP Stella Creasy claimed that the Retained EU Law Bill—proposed legislation which would see some EU laws that were carried over after Brexit expire at the end of 2023—would abolish the “right to watch the Olympics free of charge”.
The Olympic Games is a “listed event”—that is, a sporting event deemed to be of “national interest” for which the broadcast rights must be offered to free-to-air terrestrial broadcasters (like the BBC, ITV and Channel 4).
The UK’s listed events framework is set out in UK primary legislation, which is not affected by the Retained EU Law Bill. However it is possible that the current list of events may be affected.
The Retained EU Law Bill is a complex and new piece of legislation, and exactly how it will interact with different pieces of existing legislation remains in some cases unclear.
The listed events framework appears to have been used to give effect to an EU directive. If the list drawn up under that framework is considered to be EU-derived subordinate legislation for the purposes of the Retained EU Law Bill, it would automatically expire under the Retained EU Law Bill were no action taken to preserve it.
Full Fact understands that the list of sporting events itself may indeed fall under the scope of the bill. However the wider power to designate specific listed events as being of the national interest does not. This is because it is set out in an Act of Parliament, which will not expire under the Retained EU Law Bill.
The government has said people’s right to watch the Olympics for free will continue to be protected.
A spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport told Full Fact: “The Retained EU Law Bill will not abolish people's rights to watch the Olympics free of charge. The listed events regime is set out in UK domestic legislation and will not change.
"We fully support the listed events regime and will ensure it continues to deliver its objectives in our Broadcasting White Paper.”
We’ve contacted Ms Creasy for comment.
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Why are the Olympics free-to-air?
Under UK law and the telecoms regulator Ofcom’s broadcasting rules, there are a number of “listed events” given special status when it comes to broadcasting rights.
The Olympics is one of the “Group A” listed events, sometimes referred to as the broadcasting “crown jewels”. Other events in this group include the Paralympics, the FIFA World Cup (both men’s and women’s) and the Wimbledon tennis finals.
Group A status means “full live coverage” must be offered to free-to-air UK broadcasters (as opposed to secondary coverage like highlights, as is the case with Category B events like the Ryder Cup golf tournament).
The listed events regime was established by the Broadcasting Act 1996, which gave the culture secretary power to add and remove events to the list.
The Broadcasting Act is domestic UK law, not EU law. But it appears that the listed events regime, which was created by the Act, was also used to implement an EU Directive (following amendments to the Television Without Frontiers Directive in 1997), which states that EU member states should be able to “ensure wide access by the public to television coverage of national or non-national events of major importance for society, such as the Olympic games, the football World Cup and European football championship”. This was amended by a further directive in 2010.
What is the Retained EU Law Bill?
Retained EU law is a type of domestic legislation, created at the end of the UK’s transition period with the EU on 31 December 2020. Existing EU laws which applied in the UK—for example, in the areas of agriculture, health and safety and manufacturing—were preserved on the UK’s statute books following the end of the Brexit transition period.
Under the Retained EU Law Bill, which was introduced in Parliament last month, over the next year individual government departments will decide which retained EU laws should be incorporated into UK domestic law, with the rest set to automatically expire on 31 December 2023.
The Bill will also end the primacy of retained direct EU law, meaning that it will no longer supersede domestic UK law, as is currently the case.
As outlined above, the power to designate sporting events as listed events is set out in primary domestic legislation. However the list itself appears to have been given status as Retained EU Law, and this appears to be because it was used to implement an EU Directive.
As a result, the list made under that regime may be considered to be EU-derived subordinate legislation, in which case it would appear to fall under the scope of the Retained EU Law Bill.
However, the power to set the list will not be affected, and Full Fact understands the UK government intends to act where necessary to ensure events like the Olympics continue to be protected as listed events following the expiry of REUL.
What about other protections?
Ms Creasy also mentioned pension protections and airline consumer laws. After PMQs, Ms Creasy tweeted a video of herself asking this question and further claimed that the Retained EU Law Bill would “abolish law protecting 50% of your pension if your employer goes bust” and “compensation for delayed flights”.
Compensation for delayed flights was originally set out by an EU regulation in 2004. Following Brexit, this regulation was copied into UK law as Retained EU Law. The Retained EU Law (REUL) dashboard shows that the regulation is “unchanged”, meaning it has not yet been amended, reviewed or replaced by domestic law.
The Department for Transport (DfT) has proposed an alternative system for air passenger compensation to replace the EU regulation. However current transport secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan recently indicated concerns over these proposals.
We contacted DfT to confirm whether compensation for delayed flights will be incorporated into UK domestic law, or whether it will be allowed to expire at the end of 2023.
The DfT referred us to an answer provided by transport minister Katherine Fletcher about the regulation, which stated that the department was “in the process of fully considering how to best use our legislative freedom outside of the EU, including exploring options for pieces of retained EU Law, in preparation for the Bill”.
Ms Creasy’s comments about pension protections appear to refer to a 2018 European Court of Justice ruling that the Pension Protection Fund (PPF) must pay individual members at least 50 per cent of the value of their old-age pension if the employer responsible for funding the scheme they paid into goes bust.
Prior to this ruling PPF payments were capped under domestic law.
We contacted the Department for Work and Pensions to confirm whether this judgement, which is marked as “unchanged” on the REUL dashboard, will be incorporated into domestic law or allowed to expire.
A spokesperson said: “We are considering how best to seamlessly implement the measures in the Retained EU Law Bill, and its impact on EU caselaw, whilst minimising the impact on the pension industry and members of occupational pension schemes.
“The pension protection system plays a vital role and will continue to do so. Under the proposed changes to the status of Retained European Union Law the pension protection system will continue to operate as intended but within the framework of domestic legislation.”
Image courtesy of Richard Townshend