Senior Tory Jacob Rees-Mogg said the Government climbdown on revoking EU laws showed a lack of “backbone” and questioned whether it is seeking to remain aligned with the bloc.
The Conservative former Cabinet minister also appeared to criticise the Prime Minister, saying it was “not factually accurate” to describe the International Monetary Fund’s upgrading of the UK’s growth forecast to 0.4% as a “success”.
He was speaking as MPs debated Lords amendments to the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, the first chance for MPs to scrutinise it since the Government abandoned a plan for a so-called blanket sunset clause to remove EU laws from the statute book by the end of 2023.
The Bill now contains a narrowed target of around 600 such laws to be revoked by the end of the year, well short of the more than 4,000 previously pledged.
Mr Rees-Mogg described the EU laws included in the Bill to be scrapped as “trivialities”, while Conservative Sir Bill Cash said they were mostly “junk”.
“They are the trivialities of remaining EU law that have been dusted off and found to make a reasonable number,” Mr Rees-Mogg said, accusing the Government of having “lost its nerve”.
Mr Rees-Mogg, who was originally the minister responsible for the Bill but now sits on the backbenches, gave examples of EU-derived rules that he said could have been scrapped in the Bill, including workers’ rights which count sleep as working time in certain conditions, and regulations he said prevent the selling of novel foods, and others he said were blocking new housing.
He said: “It’s all very well listening to people opposite who say we should keep every environmental rule we’ve ever had, but I want my constituents to have houses, and I want other people’s constituents to have houses.
“We should be making those choices and putting the case to govern. That, I’m afraid, is at the heart of this. It’s just a lack of decisiveness, of drive, of backbone to get things done.”
He added: “These regulations also add costs continually in an inflationary era.
“And it has that fundamental problem, that suspicion that you can see people are beginning to think about, because of the 587 rules that are being repealed there is hardly a single one that changes alignment with the European Union.
“So is there hidden away in the bowels of Government some decision that we will in fact remain aligned with the European Union, possibly because of the Windsor protocol?
“Because otherwise why are we not repealing those strange and unimportant things, such as you can’t get a dog bone apparently from a butcher because of EU rules, why hasn’t that gone?
“Why haven’t we been allowed to bring back imperial measures which have been promised for years?”
He went on: “The missed opportunity is achieving supply-side reforms that would get growth for the UK economy.
“So we had the Prime Minister at the despatch box this morning – it has to be said the Leader of the Opposition seemed to me to miss a trick – saying how marvellous it was that the IMF was saying that the UK economy would grow by 0.4%.”
He criticised the reliability of the IMF forecasts, but added: “The idea that 0.4% economic growth is success, when we’ve got inflation that has only just come out of double digits, is not factually accurate.”
Senior Tory Simon Hoare expressed sympathy for the Government’s position in narrowing the scope of the laws impacted by the Bill, saying “there are reasons why it wasn’t done and that was the chaos and confusion of last year”, and that there had been “changes of ministers more than most people change their socks”.
Sir Bill said: “It’s an enormous shame, in fact I will almost call it a disgrace, that the current schedule in the Bill consists of what could politely be described as junk, with very few exceptions.”
Shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds said the U-turn was “humiliating” and that the Bill “was always a farce, designed to appease the constant, constant, constant Conservative melodrama”.
Speaking for the Government, Solicitor General Michael Tomlinson said the Government’s goals for revoking and reforming retained EU law remains “fully intact”.
He said: “The goal of this Bill to enable revocation and reform and to end the supremacy and special status of retained EU law remains fully intact.”
He said the new approach would “provide legal certainty on which EU laws fall away at the end of the year and will ensure that Parliament, ministers and officials are free to focus on more reform of retained EU law, and to do so faster”.
Mr Tomlinson later added that the 600 laws identified for reform were “not the limit of the Government’s ambitions” and that “more reforms are planned”.
He went on: “Others have asked if this is a change in direction, no. This is a different way of doing the same thing, potentially with better and faster results.”
The Government overturned a series of changes made to the Bill by the Lords, including a desire for greater parliamentary oversight and a “non-regression” requirement aimed at ensuring current environmental protections or food safety standards are not weakened.
The Bill will return to the Lords for further consideration.