Rishi Sunak urged to scrap ‘undemocratic’ proposals to axe 2,400 laws

Charities and trade unions among those calling on new PM to shelve bill that would scrap EU-era legislation protecting workers’ rights and the environment

Trade unions, lawyers and environmentalists are calling on Rishi Sunak to scrap Jacob Rees-Mogg’s legislation that would sweep away 2,400 laws derived from the EU.

The retained EU law (revocation and reform) bill is due for its second reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday, which would scrap protections including the ban on animal testing for cosmetics, workers’ rights and environmental measures.

It was designed in such a way that 47 years of laws devised during EU membership will be switched off on 31 December 2023 under a so-called sunset clause. Ministers have promised to replace them in new legislation but there are concerns that they could be changed or poorly redrafted.

Ahead of the second reading, the Trades Union Congress, the RSPB, the Civil Society Alliance, and Wildlife Trusts were among those urging Sunak to kill the legislation.

In a joint statement, they said: “We are concerned that if passed into law, it could cause significant confusion and disruption for businesses, working people and those seeking to protect the natural environment.

“The bill would automatically sweep away thousands of pieces of legislation, upend decades’ worth of case law, and risks putting the UK in breach of the trade and co-operation agreement with the EU.

“Ministers have yet to explain which laws they intend to retain, to amend or allow to expire. Nor have they explained how government and parliament will cope with the vast amount of legislation this will involve being rushed through before the end of next year.”

The call comes after leading lawyers sounded the alarm over the proposals, including one former UK government legal official, who described the move as “anti-democratic” and “completely barking”.

Eleonor Duhs, a partner at the City law firm Bates Wells and a former government lawyer who helped design the concept of retained EU law, said the government’s plans were completely at odds with May’s vision to remove EU laws with “full scrutiny and proper debate”.

The concept of retained law was created for a smooth transition, not as target practice for Brexiters, she argued.

“This bill gives ministers powers to repeal and replace a vast body of what is now domestic law at speed and without proper scrutiny. This is unprecedented, reckless and undemocratic,” said Duhs.

Swaths of laws including equal pay for men and women, pension rights for same-sex married couples, food standards and aviation safety rules could accidentally disappear or be redrafted poorly, they warn.

“A lot of laws are going to be changed without any scrutiny at all by a dying government that few people respect,” said George Peretz KC, a specialist in European law.

The SNP also urged the government to shelve the bill on Monday. Brendan O’Hara, the party’s Cabinet Office spokesperson in Westminster, said: “The UK no longer has a functioning government and yet, in the midst of this chaos, the Tories want to plunge the country into even more uncertainty by pressing ahead with this shambolic bill that will threaten food standards and workers’ rights.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said the government still intended to proceed with the bill on Tuesday.

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 by 2023.”

• This article was amended on 25 October 2022. The organisers of the statement contacted us after publication to say that the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development were mistakenly included as among the signatories urging Sunak to shelve the bill that would scrap EU-era legislation.

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Rowena Mason Whitehall editor

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