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Business Leader Urges Rishi Sunak To Ditch "Bogus" Deadline For Ditching EU Laws

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak visits a factory in Belfast (Alamy)

4 min read

Confederation of Business Industry head Tony Danker has challenged Rishi Sunak to scrap the government's commitment to repeal almost 4,000 European Union laws by the end of the year, arguing that the "bogus deadline" is putting needless strain on industry.

Danker, director general of the CBI, told PoliticsHome he believed the current timetable is driven by a ministers' desire to prove to pro-Leave Conservative MPs that they are delivering Brexit, rather than to help advance the economic interests of British industry. 

 "It occurs to me that there are indeed politics at work," he said.

Legal experts have described the ongoing process to review and either scrap, amend or retain almost 4,000 EU laws with new UK legislation before the end of 2023 as part of plans set out in the contentious Retained EU Law Bill as a "mad dash" and a "terrible way to make law".

The Prime Minister remains committed to this deadline, despite widespread warnings that departments don't have enough time to complete this complex job with sufficient care, and concern that affected sectors will have very little time to prepare for new rules and regulations.

Peers, many of whom have share these concerns about the government's plans, are expected to amend the legislation once it arrives in the House of Lords, with Labour's Baroness Hayter accusing the government of "perhaps the most extreme example of a ministerial power grab".

Speaking to PoliticsHome on Monday, Danker said Whitehall assurances that the process will "all get smoothed out" later in the year are "not good enough", and called on ministers to think again.

"The problem with political timetables is that they are last minute and what we don't need is a last-minute, stitch up between the whips to work out how this is going to be resolved," he said.

"Firms need to plan now. They build products now, they offer maternity deals now."

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and CBI chief Tony Danker
Rishi Sunak speaking at the CBI conference last year.

In a speech at University College London on Monday, Danker said firms were concerned about the impact of cliff-edge changes across the board, including workplace rights and product safety regulations, as a result of the "sunset clause" included in the Retained EU Law Bill.

"Companies are asking 'will we really erode maternity and paternity regulation, or health and safety standards like the General Product Safety Directive? Or rapidly change regulations on REACH, which governs the use of chemicals? With billions of pounds of industry costs?'

"Or create the potential for firms being underinsured because it’s harder for analysts – who don’t know what laws will be retained – to effectively price risk into products?"

He added: "Do we really want to subject the public – and industry – to another round of mass confusion and disruption, just when we’re trying to exit recession?"

Danker told PoliticsHome he believed this issue was not that reviewing EU law is a "hard piece of work to do", but that it is instead a "a high-volume piece of work to do" meaning departments should be allowed the necessary time to complete the task.

"If we didn't have a bogus deadline that we were all aiming for, we could do this work thoroughly, practically and derive competitive advantage from it," he added. 

In November, a coalition of trade bodies, environment groups and unions, including the Institute of Directors and Trades Union Congress, wrote to the Prime Minister urging him to scrap the end-of-year deadline, warning it would “cause significant confusion and disruption for businesses, working people and those seeking to protect the environment”.

Sir Philip Rycroft, who was permanent secretary at the now defunct Department for Exiting the EU, and who also served as Whitehall lead on regulatory reform during his time as chief executive of the Better Regulation Executive, this month told PoliticsHome he thought it was "completely crazy" that businesses don't know which regulations they will have to follow by the end of the year.

"Businesses simply not knowing what regulations will apply at the end of this year, and what they will have to comply with, it is completely crazy," said the former chief civil servant. 

He added: "This is not about Brexit, it’s about the way you make good regulation.”

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