Ministers ditch promised end-of-year ‘bonfire’ of remaining EU law

Ministers have ditched their promise to complete a post-Brexit “bonfire” of remaining EU-era laws by the end of the year.

Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch conceded around 600 laws would be revoked under their legislation rather than the 4,000 pledged, insisting it is “about more than a race to a deadline”.

Tory Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, who introduced the plans when he was in Liz Truss’s Cabinet, accused Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of having “abandoned his promise”.

The climbdown was cautiously welcomed by critics who had warned the project was unfeasible and that important regulations would be scrapped without proper scrutiny.

Ms Badenoch acknowledged there are “risks of legal uncertainty” by automatically scrapping the copied-over laws by the end of the year in a sunset clause in the Retained EU Law Bill.

She said ministers will amend the Bill making its way through Parliament to replace the current sunset with a list of 600 EU laws to be revoked by the end of the year.

“We will still fully take back control of our laws and end the supremacy and special status of retained EU law by the end of 2023,” she said in a written statement to MPs.

She said a further 500 pieces of retained EU legislation would be revoked by other means, but it was unclear if that will happen by the end of the year.

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s State of The Nation
Jacob Rees-Mogg accused Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of having ‘abandoned his promise’ (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

It had been estimated that around 3,700 laws would need ditching but governmental departments have now identified around 4,829 retained laws.

Ms Badenoch said around 1,000 had been scrapped or altered already, though Government data shows 906 EU laws have been dealt with so far, and only 245 of those have been repealed.

“We will not abolish any law for the sake of it,” she wrote in a defence of the move for the Daily Telegraph. “Getting rid of EU law in the UK should be about more than a race to a deadline.”

But Mr Rees-Mogg highlighted Mr Sunak’s pledge to review or repeal remaining EU laws within his first 100 days of office when he ran against Ms Truss to replace Boris Johnson as Tory leader.

In a statement to the PA news agency, the former business secretary said: “This is an admission of administrative failure, an inability of Whitehall to do the necessary work and an incapability of ministers to push this through their own departments.

“There is a missed opportunity to deregulate and to make the UK economy more efficient and competitive. This is especially important in an inflationary era as it would have reduced prices. An important economic opportunity has, therefore, been given up.

“Regrettably, ‘the blob’ has triumphed and the Prime Minister has abandoned his promise.”

But Jane Gratton, a police leader at the British Chambers of Commerce, said that firms had been worried about the “headlong rush towards the sudden removal of vast swathes of legislation overnight”.

“It is welcome that Government has listened, and the Bill will no longer apply a blanket sunset clause in this way, with the real risk of unintended but negative consequences,” she said.

The Wildlife Trusts chief executive Craig Bennett warned that ministers will still be able to “revoke important laws at whim”, raising concerns about environmental protections being scrapped.

“We won’t be congratulating the Government for its decision to stop doing something it should never have even thought about in the first place,” he said.

“Ministers should never be given carte blanche to pick and choose which laws should be kept or binned without public consultation or scrutiny – that is fundamentally undemocratic.

“The uncertainty created by the Government over retained EU law has caused huge problems for business, as well as organisations working to protect nature.”

Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister Jenny Chapman said: “This is a humiliating U-turn from a weak and divided government with no clue how to grow our economy, protect workers, support business or build a better Britain outside the EU.

“After wasting months of parliamentary time, the Tories have conceded that this universally unpopular Bill will damage the economy, at a time when businesses and families are already struggling with the Tory cost-of-living crisis.”

The Liberal Democrats accused the Government of having “dug themselves a hole” with the Bill which leaves uncertainty hanging over the status of laws.

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Fox said: “The Conservative government have dug themselves into a hole with this Retained EU Law Bill. While they may have stopped digging, they’re still in the hole.

“In their desperate attempts to avoid this legislation turning into chaos, they’re still leaving a lot of uncertainty. Both the public and businesses should be able to go on without being constantly concerned by the precariousness of so many of our laws.

“For the Liberal Democrats, the fight is not over. We will push to remove as much of this uncertainty as possible, looking closely over the list of regulations due to be scrapped and fighting to retain our environmental safeguards, food standards and employment protections.”