The draft legislation, published on Thursday (13 July) and now called the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, will annul the 1972 European Communities Act and convert existing EU law into domestic UK law on the day after Brexit.
David Davis, secretary of state for exiting the European Union, said this would ensure the UK exits the European Union with "maximum certainty, continuity and control".
The paper’s publication has prompted a flurry of responses from leading industry figures.
James Anderson, partner at licensing solicitors Poppleston Allen, described the situation as 'ironic'.
Too early for predictions
“There is an irony to the UK’s departure from the EU that the Licensing Act 2003 was supposed to give us the European café culture that never really happened and now we are arguably moving away from,” he declared.
“It is too early to predict the effects of the Repeal Bill but some EU legislation has been beneficial to licensed businesses, eg fees (in the Hemming case), and requiring local authorities to accept serving applications over the internet (as opposed to post) through the central government portal.”
Jonathan Mail, chief campaigns officer at the Campaign for Real Ale, claimed the bill would create a "real opportunity to reduce the excessive tax burden" on pubs.
“Existing EU rules prevent the UK Government from reducing the beer duty charged on beer sold in pubs or introducing a duty reduction for all beers up to 3.5% in alcoholic strength,” he said.
“For example, a 50% tax cut on draught beer sold in pubs would help the pub sector thrive by reducing tax charged per pint by around 25p.”
However, he warned that Brexit would create "a number of challenges", especially around "jobs and international trade".
Ensuring a smooth transition
His views were echoed by Brigid Simmonds, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association.
“We will also be keeping up the pressure to ensure a smooth transition post-Brexit, and that the rights of our existing employees are swiftly safeguarded,” she said. “I hope that industry will be fully engaged, and we will certainly be making the case for beer and pubs as the process moves forward.”
Kate Nicholls, Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers chief executive, said she hoped the bill marked the beginning of a productive period for the Government that would provide additional support and opportunities for the UK’s businesses.
“Naturally, the Bill deals with a wide range of complex issues that will necessitate a nuanced approach from the Government,” she declared. “It is vital that the Government works closely with businesses and encourages collaborative working with employers, trade bodies and experts. It is imperative all necessary mechanisms for trading must be in place for the day the UK leaves the EU."
Nicholls insisted there was opportunity for the UK Government to empower businesses to grow and invest more, "particularly with a VAT and excise duty regime that benefits eating and drinking out businesses".
“This can be most easily achieved if businesses are able to input into discussions around the legislation that directly affects them,” she added.