Peers set to slow down attempts to scrap thousands of EU laws

Plans by the government to review up to 4,000 pieces of EU legislation could be delayed by the Lords

Members of the House of Lords are preparing to slow down attempts to axe thousands of pieces of European Union legislation, with some warning there is no chance of the bill passing by the end of the year as promised.

Ministers have promised to review about 4,000 pieces of EU law that derive from Britain’s membership of the bloc, and have set a deadline of the end of the year to decide which ones to keep.

Such a move could mark one of the biggest deregulatory drives in a generation, but peers and experts from business groups, trade unions and environmental campaigns have all warned that such a deadline is impractical.

Chris Fox, the Liberal Democrat business spokesperson in the Lords, told the Guardian: “These regulations are about electrical safety, food standards, water purity. There are thousands of these laws and the government plans to throw them all in the air.

“There simply isn’t the legislative horsepower to come close to meeting the government’s deadline on this.”

Robin Hodgson, the Conservative chair of the Lords secondary legislation scrutiny Committee – which will play an important role in reviewing the bill, said: “We are quite concerned about what this is going to mean in terms of workload and practicability.”

Lord Hodgson added: “We are in danger of bringing back a lot of EU laws back to the UK and changing them without any parliamentary scrutiny, and that is not what most people understood by ‘taking back control.’”

Under the legislation, which was launched in September, the government must either transcribe thousands of individual regulations into UK law or see them end by the end of the year.

Ministers have been warned that reviewing each of these rules, which include everything from the right to 20 days’ holiday pay to the principles behind food safety regulations, would require hundreds of civil servants.

They are also likely to run into protracted negotiation in the Lords, where both Labour and Lib Dem peers are preparing to launch a catalogue of amendments. Given the government has the power to set the timetable for voting on legislation, however, ministers could still force peers into a decision whether or not to back the bill by the end of the year.

Departments have the option to push back the deadline until 2026 for any regulations which they oversee. The Times reported earlier this week that three departments – the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Department for Transport and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – are all expected to use this power.

But Downing Street insisted on Tuesday that it is sticking to the deadline of the end of the year. A spokesperson said: “There are no plans to change to the 2023 Sunset deadline in the retained EU law bill.”

Despite this, experts warn that the country faces disaster if the government pushes ahead with its current plans, given how little scrutiny they have been given. The Financial Times revealed in November that ministers had discovered that 1,400 more pieces of legislation would be affected, rather than 2,400 as originally estimated.

Tim Sharp, the senior policy officer for employment rights at the Trades Union Congress, said: “It is not clear to me that the government actually knows all the legislation that could be potentially affected.

“We are worried about maternity rights, holiday pay, health and safety legislation. It is a massive job to figure out which regulations they want to keep, which they want to change and which they want to ditch.”


Kiran Stacey

The GuardianTramp

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