Rishi Sunak is under pressure from a broad alliance of UK business, legal, labor and environmental groups to drop controversial plans to automatically remove parts of EU-derived law from the UK statute book by the end of next year.
More than a dozen organizations 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-Mogg, is a talismanic piece of legislation for Brexiters, who believe the process will provide 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 the business into fresh uncertainty at a time when it is battling 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 seek improvements to Britain’s existing trade deal with the EU.
The government did not respond to a request for comment on the letter.
Roger Barker, director of policy and governance at the IoD, said the bill created unnecessary uncertainty for UK businesses as they faced “more pressing issues” given the stalling economy.
“Addressing any changes to the regulations would impose a major new burden on business that it could do well without,” he said.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady described the legislation as “a recipe for chaos”, adding: “This bill has been rushed through without consultation and no real thought for the effects 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 She added that it “must be withdrawn before lasting damage is done”.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) described the business department’s impact 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 organisations, from the consumer goods group Which? to the NFU and the British Safety Council, have also asked that the bill be postponed or scrapped.
Up to 4,000 individual pieces of legislation that were introduced into UK law at the point of Brexit to preserve legal and regulatory continuity are potentially affected by the legislation.
Senior civil servants have warned that reviewing all the legislation in a short time frame 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 explicitly “reviewed or repealed” by the government before the end of 2023 automatically drop from the UK statute book.
The letter warns that this will overturn “decades of case law” and make “the interpretation of the law highly uncertain”, creating “a huge risk of bad or potentially harmful law entering the statute books” that would put vital workers, consumers and the environment in danger. 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 struck with the EU by former prime minister Boris Johnson, the letter added, “bringing with it 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 equipment.
“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 that the rush could worsen an already uncertain business environment.
“The unnecessarily tight deadlines resulting from the sunset clauses, and the sweeping legislative powers that will be given to ministers without proper parliamentary oversight, are deeply concerning,” 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.”