About two-thirds of UK businesses believe that government plans to disentangle British and EU law will cause more uncertainty and will not increase economic growth, according to a poll conducted on behalf of an alliance of environmental and public safety organisations.
The finding comes as the government’s Retained EU Law bill is debated in the House of Lords on Thursday. Under the terms of the bill, any EU-derived regulation in the UK that is not converted into UK law or revoked by the end of 2023 will automatically drop off the statute book.
The bill, first presented by Jacob Rees-Mogg, a leading Brexiter, in September during his tenure as business secretary, has been supported by Eurosceptic Tory MPs who believe that stripping out regulation is the key to exploiting the economic opportunities of Brexit.
Rishi Sunak has promised to press ahead with the bill. “We continue,” a spokesman for the prime minister said, although some ministers admit they will be forced to adopt a much more targeted approach to deregulation, given the tight deadlines.
The fact that the European Research Group of pro-Brexit Tory MPs has not condemned Sunak’s deal with the EU over Northern Ireland may persuade ministers they can take a more measured approach without incurring Eurosceptic ire.
The likely effect of the bill remains unclear: ministers have identified more than 3,700 pieces of EU law that would be affected, including politically sensitive topics such as environmental protection and workplace rights.
One critical concern is that officials do not have the capacity to review all EU-derived law by the end of this year as envisaged in the bill.
Lady Angela Smith, the leader of the Labour party in the House of Lords, warned ministers this week that it was “illogical, impractical and reckless to allow potentially important pieces of law to fall off the statute book by default because a department lacks the capacity to identify and rewrite them in the next 10 months”.
Roger Barker, director of policy and governance at the Institute of Directors, said: “Reviewing thousands of pieces of EU-derived legislation by the end of 2023 risks creating a bureaucratic nightmare for both business and the civil service. This is the last thing that business needs in such a fragile economic environment.”
The coalition opposing the bill is broad. The polling was commissioned by Unchecked UK, a charity focused on safety and protection. It was also supported by the Women’s Institute, the Wildlife Trusts, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.
Excluding those who declined to give a definitive answer, 68 per cent of businesses said the bill would cause more uncertainty, while 64 per cent of respondents said that these plans would not boost economic growth in the UK.
The polling also found that 63 per cent of respondents that expressed a view thought that these plans would restrict access to trade markets for UK businesses. Up to a quarter of businesses declined to answer these questions definitively.
The top four topics named by businesses as their primary concerns were Brexit, inflation, energy costs and labour shortages. Only 18 per cent of businesses selected excessive regulation as a major concern.
The polling did, however, find backing for the principle of reviewing EU-derived law and completing the process by the end of the year, with 41 per cent of respondents supporting the government’s plans and timetable.
This week, the Lords will consider an amendment brought by Lady Jenny Chapman, Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister, which the party has dubbed the “sovereignty amendment”. This would require ministers to provide a full list of the EU legislation they want to repeal and to put it to parliament for a vote.