A UK government plan to review or revoke all EU laws left on the UK statute book by the end of 2023 became tougher on Monday after it announced that another 1,000 pieces of legislation had been added to the pile scheduled for reform.
In an update to its “dashboard” of leftover EU laws, the government said the number of pieces of legislation covering more than 400 unique policy areas now came to 3,700. It also admitted the list was not exhaustive and would need to be updated quarterly as more laws were discovered.
The plan to review so much law, so quickly, has attracted fierce criticism from business groups, legal experts, trade unions and environmental groups. They warn that rushing the review will create costly and destabilizing legal uncertainty.
Last week Tony Danker, director-general of the CBI, the industry body, said the government was acting “foolishly” in trying to rush through the review which he said would cause “mass confusion and disruption” just as the UK was trying to exit recession.
However, the government said on Monday the review process will “maximise the benefits of Brexit and test opportunities for reform”.
In a statement to mark the third anniversary of Britain leaving the EU, prime minister Rishi Sunak said the government had made “huge strides in harnessing the freedoms unlocked by Brexit”.
He cited new freeports, changes to the City of London rule book, the vaccine rollout and a new UK subsidy regime as some of the supposed benefits, although some of them could have been delivered while Britain was in the EU.
“We’ve forged a path as an independent nation with confidence,” he said.
However, a new Ipsos Mori poll found that 45 per cent of people across Britain thought Brexit was going worse than they expected, up from 28 per cent in June 2021.
Sunak also repeated his view that rewriting EU rules was “a key area where the UK can develop a competitive advantage in order to grow the economy”, while retaining workers’ rights and environmental protections.
Senior Whitehall officials have warned that the task of reviewing so much law, covering everything from environmental regulation to rules governing workplace conditions, will put huge strain on government bureaucracy.
The expansion of the list on Monday was caused in part by the discovery last December of 1,400 additional pieces of EU legislation in the National Archives.
A “sunset clause” in the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill 2022, which is in the House of Lords, will also mean that any EU law that has not been reviewed by the end of 2023 will automatically fall off the statute book unless saved.
The announcement of the open-ended expansion of the list of EU laws drew further criticism from legal experts, conservation groups and MPs from the opposition Labor party, which argues the legislation is undemocratic because it allows ministers to amend laws without proper scrutiny.
Joël Reland, of the UK in a Changing Europe think-tank, said that continued increase of the dashboard did not leave enough time for officials to properly consider whether every newly discovered regulation should be kept on the statute books.
“Allowing thousands of pieces of retained EU law to expire by default this year, without having determined the full extent of the regulations within scope, seems legislatively reckless,” he added.
Stella Creasy, an opposition Labor MP who has been working with a cross-party group of MPs to narrow the scope of the legislation, said the concept dashboard of retained EU law as a mechanism for transparency was a “charade” given that it was so incomplete.
“The lords must demand a legally binding and complete list of what laws are being deleted by this bill as a bare minimum to restoring democracy,” she added.
BEIS, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said: “the government has been clear in its ambition to fully capitalize on the UK’s Brexit freedoms by removing years of burdensome EU regulation, driving growth, innovation and competitiveness across the country, and improving people’s everyday lives.”