Liz Truss has watered down her crowd-pleasing campaign pledge to scrap all remaining EU laws by the end of 2023 – allowing some to remain in place until 2026.
As expected, a new Bill will aim to axe up to 1,500 items of so-called “retained law” – on workers’ rights, the environment, data privacy, road standards and much more – in just 15 months’ time.
But the new government has given itself a get-out, after warnings that the accelerated timetable was a recipe for “chaos” and further damaging disruption for business.
Environmental campaigners had warned officials would have little more than one day to examine each piece of legislation on water quality and pesticides, for example, to decide which should be kept in UK law.
Now a statement from Jacob Rees-Mogg, the new business secretary, says: “The Bill includes an extension mechanism for the sunset of specified pieces of retained EU law until 2026.
“Should it be required, this will allow departments additional time where necessary to implement more complex reforms to specific pieces of retained EU law.”
In contrast, in July, as she campaigned for the Tory leadership, Ms Truss sought to outflank her rival Rishi Sunak by pledging “to scrap all EU regulation by the end of 2023”
Her camp promised “to set a ‘sunset’ deadline for every piece of EU-derived regulation, making sure all EU law is off the statute books by the end of 2023”.
The climbdown follows the U-turn that saw the new prime minister unveil a £100bn-plus cap on household energy bills – after opposing “handouts” while running for No 10.
Nevertheless, huge concerns remain over the bonfire of EU laws – even on a slower timetable – because it will be carried out through regulations, behind MPs’ backs.
A former government lawyer warned ‘human review’ of decisions made by computer algorithms will be quietly axed, risking a repeat of the 2020 “A-levels fiasco”.
Tearing up protections could also come at a price, if divergence triggers disputes under the Brexit trade deal – potentially allowing Brussels to curb access to EU markets for British firms.
Responsibility for the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill remains with Mr Rees-Mogg – who once suggested cutting EU safety standards to levels in India – after his switch from the Cabinet Office to the business department.