Fears are mounting that a bonfire of EU laws on key issues like road standards and data privacy will be rushed through without parliament’s notice under Boris Johnson’s plans to make the most of “Brexit freedoms”.
The government is set to push forward a “Brexit Freedoms Bill”, which will remove all unwanted “retained law” using subtle backstage regulations, rather than allowing full parliamentary scrutiny.
The move, which coincides with the two year anniversary of Britain’s divorce from Brussels, has sparked warnings of further pain for farmers and businesses already struggling after Brexit.
Treasury minister Simon Clarke told LBC on Monday that Brexit allowed Britain to “get rid of a load of red tape”, labelling the UK’s exit from the EU a “big success already”.
And prime minister Boris Johnson claimed the Tories want to “cut back on EU red tape” this year – just as lorry drivers are queueing for miles because of Brexit-related checks at Dover.
A booklet will reportedly be issued to tout the “benefits of Brexit” – although many of those cited, like the Covid vaccine rollout and reinforced animal welfare rules, were possible without quitting the bloc.
It is seen as an attempt by Downing Street to placate Brexit-backing Tory MPs unhappy with the slow progress since the UK quit the EU.
Sarah Olney MP, Lib Dem business spokesperson, said: “This is sneaking through a bonfire of retained law without proper scrutiny. This is likely to end badly for farmers and businesses already shafted by this government.”
Catherine Barnard, EU law professor at the University of Cambridge, warned that the new Bill “raises questions” about the thoroughness of parliamentary scrutiny “of any changes”, particularly if the government follows through with the “accelerated process” it wants.
Naomi Smith, who leads pro-EU campaign group Best for Britain seemed to agree, adding: “In a barely concealed attempt to save his own skin, the prime minister is proposing scrapping standards in the UK with minimal scrutiny and no consideration of the consequences.”
Before he quit his role last year, former Brexit Secretary David Frost suggested the government would seek to scrap EU laws on data privacy, genetically-modified agriculture and vehicle standards.
All EU law was converted into UK law and given supremacy over pre-Brexit UK law to ensure the continuity of the legal system. Tearing that system up could cause a number of disputes with Brussels.
But Johnson insisted: “The plans we have set out today will further unleash the benefits of Brexit and ensure that businesses can spend more of their money investing, innovating and creating jobs.
“Our new Brexit Freedoms Bill will end the special status of EU law in our legal framework and ensure that we can more easily amend or remove outdated EU law in future.”