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Lords Vote On Plan To Bin EU Laws Delayed Until After Local Elections As No10 Tries To Avoid Rebellion

Secretary of State for Business and Trade Kemi Badenoch (Alamy)

3 min read

A government plan to give peers a vote on legislation that seeks to do away with swathes of European Union law by the end of the year has been postponed until after the local elections in a no10 bid to avoid a major House of Lords rebellion.

The Retained EU Law Bill was due to have its report stage in the Lords soon after parliament returned from recess later this month, with April 19 and 24 having originally been penciled in. However, this timetable has been pushed back four weeks, with the government preparing to put the legislation before the Lords on 15 and 17 May, PoliticsHome understands.

A 10 Downing Street spokesperson said on Tuesday that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was still committed to putting the bill onto the statute book before the end of 2023, as per his previous pledge.

“Yes, that hasn’t changed,” they told reporters earlier today.

“It has been a long-standing government position that we want to revoke any unnecessary EU law, and we have been clear that we will do that by the end of the year," they added. 

But news of the delay will likely frustrate hardline Brexiteers on the Conservative back benches, who fear that ministers are preparing to water down their plan to scrap EU-derived laws in the face of widespread industry pressure and amendments backed by Tory peers.

A Labour source in the Lords told PoliticsHome: "This is all about the Tories shunting their own internal grief with some House of Commons colleagues, and by extension the party membership, until after the locals."

Under the Retained EU Law Bill, introduced by former prime minister Liz Truss, ministers are committed to wading through around 4,000 laws derived from the UK's previous membership of the EU and deciding which ones to keep, amend or scrap by the end of the year. Any laws that the government decides shouldn't be kept on the books, either in their current form or amended, will automatically fall away as a result of a sunset clause. 

However, legal experts have warned the plan creates a needless cliff edge for businesses affected by changes to the regulatory regime, as well as a huge, byzantine challenge for civil servants. 

Sir Jonathan Jones, ex-head of the government legal department, described it as a "terrible way to make law" while Sir Philip Rycroft, former permanent secretary at the now defunct Department for Exiting the EU, said it was a "completely mad dash" that couldn't be done "in good order".

A source familiar with Whitehall efforts to deliver the 2023 deadline described it as an "insane piece of work".

The Kemi Badenoch-led Department for Business and Trade leads on the Retained EU Law Bill, taking over responsibility from the old Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which PM Sunak dissolved as part of a shake-up of government machinery in February.

No10 is in discussions with Conservative peers about how the legislation can be changed to address their concerns and avoid being defeated in the Lords, PoliticsHome understands. The government has been warned that there is significant cross-party support for amendments which seek to give parliament a say on which EU laws are removed from the statute book.

There is a belief within Whitehall that ministers may decide to keep a large number of EU laws on the UK books beyond the end of the year and deal with them at a later date, while letting the Brussels regulations that are obviously redundant fall away under the sunset clause.  

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