Bonfire of EU rules could spark ‘chaos’ for UK business, ministers warned

Plans being drawn up by Boris Johnson’s government to set an expiry date for great swathes of EU law enshrined in the UK could cause “chaos” for businesses, experts have warned.

Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg is said to have told cabinet that he plans to introduce a five-year expiry date for around 1,500 pieces of EU regulatory legislation.

But lawyers and business groups have warned that “blanket” changes risk creating extra complexity and uncertainty for firms struggling with so many new rules after Brexit.

Eleonor Duhs – a lawyer who worked on the 2018 EU Withdrawal Act – told The Independent that a “self-imposed cliff-edge for retained EU law is a recipe for potential chaos”.

Warning of the “danger” in changing so many rules affecting the economy without scrutiny, the partner at Bates Wells law firm added: “This proposal has the potential to drive investment away from the UK at a time when we really need it.”

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) – also warned against “deregulation for its own sake”, though the influential business group said it would carefully consider how any changes may affect British firms.

“We should not complicate our trading relationship by diverging so far it makes UK goods and services unsellable into Europe,” William Bain, the BCC’s head of trade policy, told The Independent.

The government is keen to use the forthcoming Brexit freedoms bill to get rid of EU rules by bringing in “sunset clauses” that will force ministers to stick to them, amend them or ditch them by at the end of a five-year period, according to The Times.

Mr Rees-Mogg was said to have told the cabinet earlier this month about the plan to set the expiry date on 1,500 pieces of EU regulation in a bid to “force radical thinking” from government departments.

Jonathan Jones QC – the government’s former legal chief who quit over its Brexit policy – said the latest plan was “potentially very dangerous” since it would make it almost impossible for parliament and relevant industries to scrutinise each change.

“Having sunset clauses in a blanket way for huge amount of legislation is a very bad idea,” he told The Independent. “To change swathes of the law automatically is a recipe for uncertainty for businesses and consumers and everyone else.”

Mr Jones said: “If you scrap some rules on food safety automatically, for instance, then that is potentially very dangerous. Either there will be no rules, or do you revert to some existing laws in Britain from 1973? It’s bizarre.”

Ms Duhs added: “To keep, change or scrap 1,500 pieces of legislation is a huge job at a time when ministers want to cut civil service resource. Who is going to undertake this exercise and what is it that won’t get done because of it?”

The TUC also demanded that the government makes clear that workers’ rights will be protected during the so-called “bonfire” of Brussels’ regulations.

The leading union fears that Mr Rees-Mogg’s plan could see some protections “removed or watered down” without proper scrutiny by parliament.

Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, said: “Important workers’ rights and legal principles are being put at real risk by the government’s reckless plans.”

Mr Rees-Mogg’s officials at the Cabinet Office have said that more than 2,000 ideas about making the most of Brexit have been received from the public.

Among the “best ideas” revealed by the department, the public suggested abolishing EU regulations that restrict vacuum cleaner power to 1400 watts.

A government spokesperson said: “Following our departure from the EU, we can now review, update and change our rules to best suit the needs of the public and UK businesses, just like governments do around the world.”

The spokesperson said the Brexit freedoms bill “will empower parliament to think boldly about whether we want to maintain certain aspects of retained EU law, and instead whether we wish to repeal, amend or replace them for the benefit of the British people”.

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