The ‘bonfire’ of EU legislation promised by Rishi Sunak within the first year of his premiership turned into more of a slow smoulder this week as it transpired that ditching around 4,800 laws is not quite so easy. Indeed, rather than roll out a comedically oversized paper shredder this week, as featured in Sunak’s Brexit Delivery Department, Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch was forced into a rather dramatic climbdown as it emerged the Retained EU Law (REUL) will scrap 600 pieces of legislation (in addition to the 1,000 or so already repealed), with no timetable or tangible plan for ditching the rest.
In a somewhat contradictory statement, Badenoch insisted that the Government had been “thwarted” by cabinet predecessors and by senior civil servants, but simultaneously noted that it was necessary to protect certain rights derived from EU law. While the Government chose pragmatism over an ideological charge to repeal thousands of laws with little regard for its legislative and regulatory implications, the move did little to offset a bitter response from ardent Eurosceptics in the Parliamentary Conservative Party.
Leading the charge against his own party this week was Jacob Rees-Mogg, who did not hesitate in placing the blame squarely on the Prime Minister, who he said had “broken his word” over Sunak’s leadership election promise to review or repeal all EU laws in his first 100 days in office. This sentiment was echoed by other MPs, with a senior member of the European Research Group calling on the Government to “reconsider”, while another unnamed Tory MP said the move will “undermine the majority”. A further 20 Eurosceptic Tory MPs met with Chief Whip Simon Hart on Wednesday to relay their concerns.
The Conservative Party’s split over this week’s REUL announcement is a blow to Sunak, who has been trying to restore a sense of stability to his party and the Government after a tumultuous year that included Boris Johnson’s drawn-out exit from Number 10 and Liz Truss’ bleak 45-day term in office. Indeed, the timing couldn’t have been worse: local elections held less than a week previously resulted in the loss of more than 1,000 councillors as well as control of some key councils (including in leave voting areas). The results also gave significant weight to polling that has consistently put Labour on top to win the next general election. If Sunak has any chance in turning this around to win another five years in Government, he’ll need to unite his parliamentary party behind his vision for post-Brexit Britain first or risk further turmoil.
We should at this point declare interest, as Field has been working with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) on their campaign to ensure life-saving legislation is not revoked at the end of this year. This week’s u-turn has confirmed that no priority pieces of health and safety law will be sent to the shredder. Here’s to lives saved and another successful campaign for RoSPA and Field!