The government announced that more than 2,500 EU regulations will remain in the UK’s statute book after the end of the year. This is a move welcomed by business but criticised as a retreat by Tory Brexiters.
Kemi Badenoch confirmed the UK Trade Secretary’s decision to drop the sunset clause of the Retained EU Law Bill. The clause mandated that after Brexit, all 4,800 EU laws that are in place in Britain must be reviewed and repealed.
She announced instead that “only around 600” EU Regulations would be scrapped as part of the Bill. She stated that officials had identified a “growing number” of EU laws and that the sunset clause was a sign that the government has become more focused on “reducing the legal risk by maintaining EU laws rather than prioritising meaningful Reform”.
Rishi Sunak and his team pledged to review or repeal all EU laws after Brexit during the Conservative leadership race in August. This was within 100 days of becoming prime minister. The UK government had identified 2,400 regulations at the time. Since then, the number has nearly doubled.
Next week, a list of approximately 600 laws that will be revoked should be released. Badenoch told MPs that around 1,000 EU regulations had already been repealed and another 500 would be done so via the Financial Services and Markets Bill and Procurement Bill. Both are currently being debated in parliament.
She indicated that in the future, more laws may be repealed: “We’ll retain the vitally-important powers in the Bill which allow us to continue amending EU laws. So more complex regulations can still be repealed or reformed following proper assessment and consultation.”
Jacob Rees Mogg, former Business Secretary who had first proposed the plan to eliminate all unwanted EU legislation by the end 2023, was enraged at Badenoch’s statement.
“The Prime Minister promised in a video campaign to shred EU law. . . He has broken his promise,” said he.
A spokesperson for the government said that ministers are “committed” to “sunsetting unnecessary and burdensome EU legislation by the end 2023”. They also stressed that the commitment made in the 2019 manifesto to end EU law’s special status is on track.
The British Chambers of Commerce (the business lobby group) welcomed the decision of the government to drop the sunset clause. It said that it had “real risks of unintended, but negative consequences”.
Jane Gratton is the BCC’s head of people policies. She said that a balance must be found between protecting “first and foremost”, the certainty of business, while also reforming outdated regulations.
She added that there was scope to reduce compliance requirements for businesses in certain aspects of employment laws, which would be better for both employers and staff.
Conservation groups have heavily criticised the legislation, warning that it gives ministers extensive power to undermine environmental protections. Many of these regulations are based on EU era regulations.
The Greener UK Coalition which represents 10 of UK’s biggest conservation groups including the RSPB, and the Marine Conservation Society welcomed the decision by the government to keep laws in place by default rather than risking them lapse by accident.
They warned, however, that the revised position had not addressed the so-called “Henry VIII” powers. These they claimed would allow ministers to dilute the protections without full scrutiny by parliament.
Badenoch unveiled also a package deregulatory Reforms, including alterations to the UK’s application of the EU Working Time Directive, which could save businesses as much as £1bn per year, according to the government.
Employment lawyers claim that removing the requirement to report the working hours of employees would have little impact in the real world, despite the fact that the EU’s working time regulations are often seen by Brexit supporters as a symbol.
The changes to holiday pay rules could be even more important, allowing businesses to exempt overtime from calculations.
“Holidays for British workers are sacred.” Paul Nowak said that ministers should not interfere with this, as the general secretary of Trades Union Congress (the union umbrella body) stated.
The biggest change that could be made, if it were implemented, is to limit non-compete clauses by three months. These clauses prevent employees from working for a competitor or starting a new business after they leave their current job.
Hannah Netherton is a partner in the law firm CMS. She said that it was “bizarre” to hide such a significant change in employment law.