Rishi Sunak is considering deprioritising Jacob Rees Mogg’s controversial bill to switch off 2,400 retained EU laws covering everything from holiday pay rights to environmental protections and aircraft safety.
The new prime minister has been told it would take 400 staff in the business department alone to review 300 pieces of legislation that resulted from directives, decisions and EU rules over the past 50 years, the Financial Times reported.
According to a government website outlining the scope of the retained EU law (revocation and reform) bill, a further 570 laws would have to be reviewed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs before the deadline of the end of 2023.
Under the proposed legislation, which received its second reading in the House of Commons this week, all laws, whether reviewed or not, would be switched off by the government on 31 December 2023, placing a huge burden on the civil service.
Officials in the Department for Transport would have to review 424 laws, while the Treasury would have to divert staff to review 374 laws at a time when they face enormous challenges because of the cost of living crisis.
Officials in HM Revenue and Customs would have to review 228 laws, while those in the Department for Work and Pensions would need to review 208.
According to the FT, some ministers have said the civil service has exaggerated the time it would take to review the laws, but one said: “What a waste.”
Rees-Mogg, a champion of Boris Johnson, quit the frontbench on Tuesday, but in an impassioned speech in the House of Commons he said the bill was about “restoring parliamentary sovereignty” and helping remove rules and regulations that supposedly put business under pressure.
Speculation was rife this week that Sunak would extend the sunset clause to 2026, in line with Rees-Mogg’s plan to expunge any vestige of EU law by the 10th anniversary of the Brexit referendum.
The option to postpone the sunset clause is contained in the bill, giving the government the opportunity to delay at the last minute next year.
Removing EU laws was one of Sunak’s priorities during the Conservative party leadership contest with Liz Truss this summer.
He vowed to “keep Brexit safe” and put the laws “through the shredder” by starting to review or repeal 2,400 laws in his first 100 days as prime minister.
But critics, including legal experts and the government lawyer who designed the concept of retained EU law, say the timetable of reviewing 2,400 laws in little more than a year is unrealistic.
The shadow business secretary, Jonathan Reynolds, told the house the bill was “not conducive to good laws”, and that the sunset clause “puts a gun to parliament’s head”.
Parliamentary officials issued a call for written evidence on Wednesday, giving consultation groups until 8 November to make submissions on the bill.
Opponents have also criticised the bill as anti-democratic as it confers unprecedented powers on ministers to personally decide whether to save or axe laws.
If a law has not been actively reviewed and saved, it will automatically disappear.
The Scottish National party spokesperson, Brendan O’Hara, urged Sunak to scrap the bill, describing it as the “unwanted puppy that no one would particularly want in the first place that no one really cares for” given as a present by a man who has “flounced” out the door.
A government spokesperson said: “The government is committed to taking full advantage of the benefits of Brexit, which is why we are pushing ahead with our retained EU law bill, which will end the special legal status of all retained EU law and make it more easily amended, repealed or replaced.”