The UK government’s plans to give ministers the ability to tear up around 2400 pieces of EU law on the UK statute have been dismissed as ‘unfit for purpose’ by the government’s own regulation watchdog.
The Retained EU law bill (REUL), which is currently at the amendment stage in the UK parliament, would result in thousands of laws copied from the EU to the UK statute being “sunsetted” by the end of 2023 if ministers do not formally state that they will be kept.
These include legislation on workers’ rights, such as the working time directive and maternity pay, and swathes of environmental protection legislation, financial services and single market law.
The Bill gives powers to ministers to decide whether to save or axe laws, bypassing typical legislative processes. Legal experts and opposition parties have criticised the proposed lack of oversight as undemocratic.
However, on Tuesday, the government’s independent regulation watchdog, the regulatory policy committee (RPC), described it as “not fit for purpose”.
“No impacts for changes to individual pieces of REUL have been assessed at this stage. We asked the department to commit to assessing the impact of changed and sunsetted legislation for RPC scrutiny in the future, but the department has not made a firm commitment to do so,” said the RPC in response.
The watchdog added, “it is our view that those affected by the regulatory change should reasonably expect the government to properly consider the impacts of such changes.”
The impact assessment published on Tuesday (22 November) concedes that there is “a high degree of uncertainty about the exact policy changes that the secondary powers and sunsetting parts of the Bill enables” and describes the bill as “a facilitator of change”.
Nor does it give an assessment of the likely cost or benefit of the move, although it estimates that the “repeal and replace power and the consolidation power would be used several hundred times”.
The question of how the UK will change its regulatory regimes outside the EU has come into focus again this week following reports that ministers are considering whether to try to remove most of the trade barriers that were imposed by the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, which governs post-Brexit trade in a deal modelled on Switzerland’s economic ties to the bloc. A Swiss-style deal would be based on the principle of regulatory alignment – whereby the UK would commit to sticking to swathes of EU single market legislation.
On Monday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told business leaders that outside the EU, the UK would establish “regulatory regimes that are fit for the future that ensure that this country can be leaders in those industries that are going to create the jobs and the growth of the future”.
Cutting the burden of EU regulation on businesses was a long-standing promise of Brexiteers during and after the 2016 referendum campaign.
Last month, a UK parliament committee report found that staff cuts of up to 40% and “poor planning and preparation” had left UK regulatory agencies struggling to cope with life outside the EU.