When using a bike on a road in the UK, is it ever legal not to have separate brakes on the front and back wheels?
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Yes. A fixed wheel does not need two, it needs only one (on the non-fixed, presumably the front, wheel).
Two separate and independent bracking systems, one per wheel, are required, but as the CTC say
Note also that, when sold, European regulations dictate that it should be left-hand rear, right-hand front.
Not too sure on the legal standing on actually using the bike on the road - I think it extends to retailers legally having to sell bikes with brakes, and a bell too I seem to remember.