Rishi Sunak is under pressure from a broad alliance of UK business, legal, labor and environmental groups to drop controversial plans for automatic remove swaths of EU-derived legislation from the British statute book by the end of next year.
More than a dozen organisations, including the Institute of Directors, the Trades Union Congress and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, warned that the move would “cause significant confusion and disruption” for businesses, workers, consumers and conservationists.
The Retained EU Law Bill, which has been backed by leading Eurosceptics including former Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Moggis a talismanic piece of legislation for Brexiteers who believe the process will deliver a “productivity boost” to the UK economy.
But in a letter sent to business secretary Grant Shapps on Wednesday, the groups warned that dumping EU laws would throw business into new uncertainty at a time when they are struggling with skyrocketing energy bills and inflation.
The letter is the latest sign that business is taking a more robust approach to the continued disruption from Brexit. CBI chief Tony Danker this week urged ministers to put political motives aside to apply improvements to the UK’s existing trade agreement with the EU.
A government spokesman said it was committed to taking full advantage of the benefits of Brexit, which was why it was pushing ahead with the EU Retention Bill. “This will allow us to ensure that our laws and regulations are best suited to the needs of the country, including ensuring that we continue to protect and improve workers’ rights and support jobs.”
Roger Barker, director of policy and governance at the IoD, said the bill created unnecessary uncertainty for businesses in the UK as they faced “more pressing issues” given the stagnant economy.
“Getting to grips with any resulting regulatory changes will impose a major new burden on businesses that it could do without,” he said.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady described the legislation as “a recipe for chaos”, adding: “This bill has been rushed through with no consultation and no real consideration of the impact on workers, businesses, consumers and the environment.” She added that it “must be withdrawn before lasting damage is done”.
The letter comes just days after the government’s own Regulatory and Policy Committee (RPC) outlined the impact of the business department assessment for the bill as not “fit for purpose”.
Other signatories include Greener UK, Employment Lawyers Association, Civil Society Alliance, Wildlife and Countryside Link, Hope for Justice, Wales Council for Voluntary Action and Wales Civil Society Forum.
Other organizations from the consumer goods group Which? to the NFU and the British Safety Council, have also called for the bill to be delayed or scrapped.
Up to 4,000 individual pieces of legislation that were transposed into UK law at the time of Brexit to maintain legal and regulatory continuity are potentially affected by the legislation.
Senior officials have warned that reviewing all the legislation in a short timeframe would place an impossible burden on Whitehall.
Of particular concern is a “sunset clause” which would see any EU-derived law that has not been expressly “reviewed or revoked” by the government by the end of 2023 automatically lapse from the UK statute book.
The letter warns that this will overturn “decades of case law” and make “the interpretation of the law very uncertain”, creating “a huge risk of bad or potentially harmful legislation entering the statute book” which would bring vital workers, consumers and the environment at risk. protections.
These range from holiday pay, safe working hours and protection against discrimination to the labeling of meat and eggs and a ban on the slaughter of seals.
Dropping those laws could also put the UK “in breach” of the deal former prime minister Boris Johnson struck with the EU, the letter added, “carrying the prospect of further tariffs hurting UK exporters and those who work for them”.
Other groups have expressed deep concerns about the scope and pace of the legislation.
Rocio Concha, policy director at Which? said the bill could modernize consumer laws, including those governing the safety of products ranging from car seats to food and technological devices.
“This bill is too important to rush through — the 2023 deadline with an automatic sunset makes no sense to anyone,” she said.
Nick von Westenholz, director of trade at the NFU, said the farming industry supported a systematic review of EU-derived laws to improve the regulatory regime governing farming, but warned the rush could worsen an already uncertain business environment.
“The unnecessarily tight deadlines resulting from the sunset clauses and the extensive legislative powers that will be given to ministers without proper parliamentary oversight are very worrying,” he said.
Peter McGettrick, chairman of the British Safety Council, the health and safety industry body, said the bill risked “opening up a legal black hole which will leave businesses in the dark and put people at greater risk.”