A brief history of food law. The legal basis of food law in the UK and the continuing role of EU law that has now become domestic.


The United Kingdom­­ became a member of the European Economic Community (EEC), as it was then known, on 1 January 1973 and just a month over 48 years later the UK left the European Union (EU) on 31 January 2021.

The fact that the European Union (EU) has so many different bodies with similar-sounding names does not help in fostering a general understanding of how the EU and Brussels works. There follows a brief description of each principal body.

There are two important and fundamental points about the nature of EU law to grasp at the outset.

Firstly, EU law reigns supreme throughout the European Union. The principle of the primacy of EU law means that any law of a Member State which conflicts with EU law must be disapplied in the national courts regardless of whether the national law was passed before or after the EU law with which it conflicts.

The Court of Justice of the European Union (the Court) interprets EU law to make sure it is applied in the same way in all EU countries. It also settles legal disputes between EU governments and EU institutions. Individuals, companies or organisations can also bring cases before the Court if they believe their rights have been infringed by an EU institution.


EU law, prior to Brexit, took effect under the European Communities Act 1972 either by means of direct effect under s2(1) or by being given effect by means of regulations made under s2(2).

The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 provided the means of avoiding the legal vacuum that would otherwise have been created once EU law ceased to be applicable in the UK on exit day when the UK ceased to be a Member State of the EU.

Retained EU law is a new and novel concept which is defined in section 6(7) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018:

This is a complex area and what follows is a summary of the main provisions at play in interpreting retained EU law and its status under domestic law.

The approach to be taken in interpreting retained EU law is set out in section 6 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.

In general, decisions of the Court of Justice made before IP completion day are binding on a court or tribunal, decisions made after that date are not binding but a court or tribunal may have regard to those decisions as an aid to interpretation.

There are extensive powers set out in section 8 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 for a minister to make regulations to remedy or mitigate failures or deficiencies in retained EU law. The devolved authorities have similar powers.