By Steve Heldon
Liz Truss has promised to ditch thousands of EU laws remaining on the UK statute books by the end of 2023, despite warnings of “chaos” and disruption from lawyers, business leaders and union bosses.
The foreign secretary has vowed to go faster in repealing or replacing more than 2,000 EU laws than her Conservative leadership rival Rishi Sunak, who had pledged to do the same before the next general election.
However, experts told The Independent that the Tory “arms race” to get rid of Brussels rules would mean more “friction” for businesses, as well as putting employment rights and environmental protections at risk.
Since Brexit, the government has managed to scrap or change only around 15 per cent of the 2,400 Brussels rules and regulations retained in UK law.
But in a desperate bid to appeal to Brexiteers in the Tory membership, Truss and Sunak are now promising to axe or amend 100 per cent of those EU rules in the next couple of years – much faster than the 2026 deadline recently proposed by Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Ms Truss said her new “sunset” deadline of the end of next year would “accelerate plans to get EU law off our statute books so we can boost growth and make the most of our new-found freedoms”.
Jonathan Jones QC – the government’s former top legal adviser, who quit in 2020 over its Brexit policy – told The Independent that the rush was potentially “dangerous” because it would be impossible for parliament and relevant industries to scrutinise each change.
“There’s an arm race going on to see who can scrap EU laws the quickest,” said Mr Jones. “It risks being chaotic. It’s hopeless to try to change everything very quickly. You’re introducing a huge amount of uncertainty for businesses and consumers.”
He added: “It’s potentially dangerous to scrap some rules on food safety, chemical safety or employment rights, for instance, without proper scrutiny. It’s a completely bizarre way to govern.”
On Truss’s claim that a red tape bonfire is about “freedom”, the QC said: “The idea that all EU law is red tape and therefore bad law is, frankly, nonsense. There’s almost 50 years of laws there – some of which the UK supported because they make sense.”
The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has previously warned that “deregulation for its own sake” could “complicate our trading relationship by diverging so far it makes UK goods and services unsellable into Europe”.
Professor Catherine Barnard, deputy director of the UK in a Changing Europe think tank, also warned that greater divergence from EU law would create more “friction” for British firms already struggling with changes imposed by Brexit.
“The more divergence there is in practice, the more checks the EU will want to impose,” the EU law professor said. “The more divergence there is, the more trade friction there will be.”
The TUC also fears that some employment rights enshrined in EU law will be removed or watered down in the so-called “bonfire” of Brussels regulations.
The union’s general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said the Tory leadership rivals’ promises were “cynical and reckless” and “threaten hard-won workers’ rights”. She added: “Let’s call this out for what it is: ideological posturing at the expense of ordinary working people.”
According to a government dashboard first published last month, there were 2,417 pieces of retained EU law on the UK statue books after Brexit, but 229 of those have now been repealed or replaced, and a further 182 amended.
The government’s dashboard shows that EU guidance on genetically modified goods, measures to uphold hygiene in the fishing industry and common standards for packaging waste have all been repealed.
Mr Sunak last weekend promised that he “will have scrapped or reformed all of the EU law, red tape and bureaucracy” by the time of the next election, vowing to conduct a review of all retained rules within 100 days of taking office.
Eleonor Duhs, a lawyer who worked on the government’s 2018 EU Withdrawal Act, has warned that a self-imposed “cliff edge” for scrapping all Brussels regulations could drive investors away from the UK.
“Retained EU law is a vast body of law spanning areas such as data protection, health and safety, environmental law, employment rights, consumer protection and food and farming,” the partner at the Bates Wells law firm told The Independent.
Calling Truss’s 2023 target “unrealistic”, Ms Duhs added: “It is difficult to see how this policy can be delivered in a matter of months in a way that is competent and responsible.”
It comes as the European Commission launched four new legal actions against the UK government for breaking parts of the Northern Ireland protocol agreement, after legislation aimed at tearing up parts of the deal passed in the Commons.
Brussels said the UK was failing to impose the right checks on goods coming from Northern Ireland to Great Britain and attacked London’s “unwillingness to engage in meaningful discussion” on resolving the protocol dispute since last year.
A UK government spokesperson said the legal action was “disappointing” and claimed goods leaving Northern Ireland for Great Britain presented “no risk to the EU single market”.
Mr Sunak and Ms Truss have both vowed to plough on with the protocol bill – which unilaterally rips up key parts of the Brexit withdrawal deal – despite warnings of a trade war with Brussels.
A spokesperson for the Sunak campaign called the commission’s legal action “petty and unwelcome”, and said he would push ahead with the bill “until and unless the EU says it is willing to come to the table to renegotiate the contents of the protocol”.
Both candidates have vowed to scrap the EU’s Solvency II regulations on the insurance market to help investors put more money into British infrastructure. Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi said this week that his financial services bill would ease Solvency II rules.
Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrats’ foreign affairs spokesperson, described Ms Truss’s new, end-of-2023 deadline for the red-tape bonfire as “pointless posturing” when more practical measures to sort out the protocol were needed.
“The Conservative government would do better to focus on fixing their botched trade deal with Europe, which is drowning our businesses in red tape and raising prices in the shops,” she said.
Source: Healthy Duck.