That video gives the impression, doesn’t it, that Rishi Sunak was going to “shred” retained EU law within a hundred days? That was certainly the sort of thing many Conservative members wanted to hear last summer.
They believe, and believe they’ve learned from experience, that the best way of dealing with Brussels and its works is to passive-aggressively set a deadline after which we leave with No Deal, or upon which every bit of retained EU law goes up in a puff of smoke. They doubt these sudden shocks would be a problem; but anyhow, the threat of the cliff edge will concentrate minds. That was the impulse behind Jacob Rees-Mogg’s plan to “sunset” masses of retained EU law by the end of 2023, and to which Sunak’s campaign video spoke.
But if you were listening carefully to Rishi Sunak last year, his actual intentions always seemed different. Point 4 of his “Ten Point Plan for Britain” read as follows:
Delivering on Brexit – Scrapping all EU laws that hold the economy back before the next election.
Apart from the different timescale, note that what’s being referred to here is a cleverly defined subset of retained EU law. Brexiteer MPs and Conservative members tend to believe that all EU law by definition holds the UK economy back; so naturally they think Sunak was promising to scrap all retained EU law. I suppose you can’t blame them, given that video. But you, I and Rishi Sunak know that he meant only those specific bits of retained EU law that in his view really do hold the economy back. I said so at the time:
Sunak’s promise seems to be to “reform” all retained EU law that’s “slowing our growth”. Sensible of course to qualify it significantly like this. Unwise and purely ideological to repeal all rEU law to a two-year deadline. But I imagine he’ll be accused of “betraying Brexit”. https://t.co/qQkCC8NWIj
— Carl Gardner (@carlgardner) July 17, 2022
The original Rees-Mogg plan was always impractical. Easy for the Conservative barrister Steven Barrett to say that it’s just a question of
going through a pile of law and putting on a red/amber/green sticky note
and I suppose it would be relatively easy if you just said all retained EU law should stay—but that’s not what was intended, of course. Easy if you think large amounts of law can just be deleted without having any negative effects on the country—but you’d have to be reckless to think that. The hard bit, the bit that will take lots of civil service and ministerial time, is thinking through how any retained EU law that can be improved on, should be improved on. That’s actually the goal, and the government certainly doesn’t have the time or resources to do it all by the end of this year.
I had thought ministers would stick with the bill as it was and just use the very extensive powers it would give them in such a way as to quickly roll over most retained EU law at least for three years, and only replace choice bits of it. Ministers do seem to have that sort of plan but it now appears that they’ve decided to drop or delay the end-2023 deadline as well. The FT says Kemi Badenoch
told Tory Brexiters this week that the majority of almost 4,000 pieces of retained EU law would remain on the statute book, with perhaps 800 being removed by the end of the year.
Badenoch’s allies did not deny on Thursday that the government was preparing to ditch a December 31 2023 “sunset clause” …
Ditching the deadline would save the time and trouble of making new laws about lots of things just to maintain the status quo.
Funny, in a way, that this all became news this week. Michael Gove told the Levelling Up committee a month ago (see his answer to Question 26) that
Of course, a question is raised by the timetable in the retained EU law Bill, but—I will be making this point to Ministers from the devolved Administrations when we meet to discuss the Bill—we are seeking to ensure that our statute book is in an orderly fashion, looking at every piece of retained EU law and deciding whether we want to retain, amend or ditch. I think that, in the overwhelming number of cases, by the end of this calendar year we will have decided that we want to retain.
I suppose most MPs will have missed Gove’s answer at the time, whereas now Kemi Badenoch’s said the same directly to them, they can’t miss it.
This is a sensible and welcome approach from the government, whatever anyone might feel about that campaign video.