A bonfire of EU laws on everything from data privacy to road standards will be forced through behind parliament’s back under new plans to seize “Brexit freedoms”, it is feared.
The alarm has been raised over the announcement of a single Bill to remove all unwanted “retained law” – using backstage regulations, instead of allowing full scrutiny and votes.
The move marks the two-year anniversary of the UK leaving the EU, to cut “red tape”, Boris Johnson claimed – provoking ridicule, as truckers queue for many miles to get through Brexit checks at the Channel ports.
A booklet will be issued to celebrate “the benefits of Brexit”, although many of the “benefits” – the Covid vaccine rollout and stronger animal welfare rules – were possible without withdrawal.
Asked about the plan on Monday, Treasury minister Simon Clarke told LBC that Brexit has “allowed us to get rid of a load of red tape – it has been a big success already”.
A ban on pavement parking is believed to have been dropped when it was pointed out that London cracked down on the practice in 1974 and the Scottish Parliament in 2019.
The booklet is being seen as an attempt by No 10 to calm Brexit-backing Tory MPs who resent the snail’s pace progress in striking out EU regulations since departure day in 2020.
Ministers have been forced to boast about the possible return of pounds and ounces, the adding of the Crown mark to pint glasses and selling “pints of champagne”.
But most concern centres on the use of a single Bill to delete retained law, to prevent the need for different legislation that “would take years”, No 10 admits.
Catherine Barnard, professor of EU law at Trinity College Cambridge, has warned: “This raises issues about the quality of parliamentary scrutiny of any changes, especially if, as proposed, an ‘accelerated process’ is involved.”
Sarah Olney MP, Liberal Democrat 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.”
And Naomi Smith, head of the campaign group Best for Britain, said: “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 suddenly quit last year, the former Brexit minister David Frost pointed to data rights, genetically modified crops, medical trials and “outdated EU vehicle standards” as likely targets.
To ensure continuity of the legal system, amid the turmoil of Brexit, all EU law was converted into UK law and given supremacy over pre-withdrawal UK law.
Tearing that up could come at a price, if divergence triggers disputes under the Brexit trade deal, potentially allowing Brussels to curb access to EU markets for British firms.
But the prime minister said: “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.”
Asked if the “Brexit benefits” booklet – to be published online only – will stretch to a rumoured 100 pages, a government source said only “it’s a big document”.