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Remember Brexit? Imminent “EU Bonfire” Sparks Clash

Ministers are facing growing opposition from both opposition parties and Conservative MPs over their plans to scrap EU-era laws that were copied over to UK law after Brexit. Under the government’s proposals, thousands of laws are set to expire automatically after December unless they are specifically kept or replaced. This has prompted concerns that important legislation could lapse by accident.

Labour calls for Brexit laws deadline extension

Labour is pushing for the end-of-year deadline to be pushed back to 2026, arguing that it will ensure employment rights are retained. Recently, the Labour party sought to clarify it’s position on Brexit, with this issue certainly having the potential to reopen those questions. Several Tory backbenchers, including former Brexit Secretary David Davis, are also backing an attempt to give MPs a greater say over which laws are scrapped.

The suggested changes will be discussed later when the Retained EU Law Bill, introduced under Liz Truss, returns to the House of Commons. So far, the government has identified more than 2,400 EU laws that were copied over to UK law to minimise disruption to businesses when the UK officially left the EU in 2020. However, this official estimate is expected to increase significantly, with a further 1,400 previously unidentified laws recently unearthed by the National Archives.

The total number of laws has prompted concerns about the workload required within the civil service to review all the legislation. The bill would also give ministers wide-ranging powers to change or get rid of EU laws, prompting criticism that important changes in a wide range of areas could be made without proper scrutiny.

Labour has put down several amendments to exclude various EU laws from the December 2023 deadline, including rules on airline compensation, toy safety, transporting animals, and equal treatment for part-time employees. Meanwhile, several Conservatives, including Mr Davis and former cabinet minister Sir Robert Buckland, are backing a move to give MPs more control over which EU laws are ditched.

Under their plan, the government would have until the end of September to draw up a list of laws it wants to scrap, with MPs then able to add or remove legislation from the list after a vote. Mr Davis, a leading figure in the campaign to leave the EU, has said he wants MPs to be in the driving seat, not government departments.

Burning Brexit red tape?

The government says this process is an opportunity to make regulations more business-friendly and rejects the suggestion that environmental or employment protections will be watered down. However, green groups have warned about the difficulty of reviewing the large number of EU-era environmental laws, covering issues such as water quality, air pollution standards, and protections for wildlife, to detailed laws on mollusc farming, border checks on imported salamanders, and rules for importing hay.

Craig Bennett of the Wildlife Trusts said the government was planning to get rid of regulations without a plan of how to replace them. He accused the government of introducing a “bulldozer law” ideologically driven by supporters of Brexit. EU laws covering financial services are currently exempt from the deadline as they have been carved out into another bill making its way through the Commons. The same is expected for EU legislation affecting VAT and customs.

Final Thought

Further political debates were hardly needed to expose the rifts in the Conservative Party, however they are once again rearing their head. Since Rishi Sunak took office, the Online Safety Bill is just the latest issue he has been forced to concede to backbench rebels on. There is certainly a growing feeling that the Government will back down on most divisive issues if it means they can keep internal party discord to a minimum.

After an incredibly turbulent few months, with Tory infighting doing little to bolster their public image, it is easy to understand why. The question therefore is, whether he will do the same here.

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