Chucking the baby out with the bathwater – the dangerous Retained EU Laws Bill

Image by Richfife, Wikimedia Commons

It seems to me that there is very little reason to have confidence in our current government. I mean, how can you have faith in anything they say, and what evidence is there to suggest that they can do anything competently?

With this in mind, it is particularly alarming that Conservative MPs are voting through the Retained EU Laws Bill (REUL) without amendment.

The ‘Sunset Clause’

There are around 4,000 ‘retained’ EU laws that need to be looked at and decisions taken on whether to further retain, amend or scrap them. You may think it would be sensible to re-examine these retained laws and to see if they are still fit for purpose. However, the bill includes a ‘sunset clause’ which requires any laws which have not been examined and specifically retained, to drop off the statute book at the end of this year. Ninety per cent of our food standard laws come under REUL, as do those concerned with employment protection. Even over several years, it would be a herculean task to scrutinise these laws properly. Over a period of less than ten-and-a-half months, it will be completely unachievable. So, if a civil servant or minister overlooks a law on, say, the safety levels for herbicides in vegetables, hormones in chicken or chemicals in children’s toys, the protection will just go.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, who introduced and is championing this bill, appears to be someone who thinks regulations are for wimps, and an obstruction to trade. He is especially animated when the laws derive from the EU. Personally, I am quite happy that farmers cannot pump our food full of chemicals and that my children have protection from exploitation at work. But maybe the British public is clamouring for weaker regulations so they can be sacked at the drop of a hat and find even more sewage in our waterways.

‘Taking Back Control’

A further concern about this bill is that of sovereignty. If the REUL bill passes unamended, Clause 15 of the bill gives ministers and officials the power to amend or strike out laws at their discretion, without recourse to parliamentary scrutiny. Seriously? Was ‘Take Back Control’ about returning law-making to our sovereign parliament, or was it to give it to some bloke in an office in Whitehall?

Regulatory burden

If this assault on our laws were not enough, the bill proposes that ministers can amend them without consultation and without matching standards with those pertaining at the moment. Most worryingly, it also states that the Clause 15 powers may not increase the overall ‘regulatory burden’. Accordingly, these powers may only be used for a deregulatory purpose. They are not capable of being used to enhance rights and protections enjoyed by individuals; they are only capable of being used to reduce or remove rights and protections.

Even with the best of intentions (and who would suspect our government of having those?), and with armies of civil servants and years to complete this task, mistakes will be made.

These retained EU laws are ones that MEPs and ministers negotiated and agreed, and that we passed into UK law via Parliament. It appears to me, therefore, that this bill is more about ideology than good governance, and severely risks throwing the baby out with the bath water. The Public Law Project has provided a very succinct account of the issues at stake in relation to this bill and I would urge everyone to find the time to read it.

I have written to my MP several times and will be writing again given his very complacent, if not condescending, replies. I will also be contacting the Lords. I would urge everyone who can, to take action before it is too late.