Employers, unions, lawyers and environmentalists are calling on Rishi Sunak to scrap Jacob Rees-Mogg’s legislation which would wipe out 2,400 EU-derived laws.
The retained EU (Repeal and Reform) Bill is due to have a second reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday, which would scrap protections including a ban on cosmetics testing on animals, workers’ rights and environmental protection measures.
It is designed so that 47 years of laws created during EU membership will expire on December 31, 2023 under the so-called sunset clause. Ministers have promised to replace them in new laws, but there are concerns they could be changed or badly rewritten.
Ahead of the second reading, the Trades Union Congress, the RSPB, the Civil Society Alliance, wildlife trusts and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development were among those calling on Sunak to kill the bill.
In a joint statement, they said: “We are concerned that, if passed, the bill could cause significant confusion and disruption for businesses, employees and those who want to protect the environment.”
“The bill would automatically wipe out thousands of laws, overturn decades of case law and risk the UK breaking its trade and cooperation agreement with the EU.”
“Ministers are yet to explain which laws they intend to keep, amend or allow to expire.” Nor have they explained how the government and parliament will deal with the massive amount of legislation that will entail before the end of next year.
The call comes after leading lawyers sounded the alarm over the proposal, including a former UK government legal official, who described the move as “anti-democratic” and “absolutely disgraceful”.
Eleanor Duhs, a partner at City law firm Bates Wells and a former government lawyer who helped devise the concept of retained EU law, said the government’s plans were completely at odds with May’s vision to remove EU law with “full scrutiny and proper debate”.
The concept of retained law was created for a smooth transition, not as a target practice for Brexiteers, she argued.
“This bill gives ministers the power to quickly and without proper scrutiny repeal and replace a huge part of what is now domestic law.” “This is unprecedented, reckless and undemocratic,” Duhs said.
A range of laws, including equal pay for men and women, pension rights for same-sex married couples, food standards and aviation safety rules could all but disappear or be badly amended, they warn.
“A lot of laws will be changed without any control by a dying government that few people respect,” said George Peretz KC, a specialist in European law.
The SNP also called on the government to postpone the bill on Monday. Brendan O’Hara, the party’s cabinet spokesman in Westminster, said: “Britain 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 pushing ahead with this shambolic bill that will threaten food standards and rights workers.”
A spokesman for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said the government still intended to press ahead with the bill on Tuesday.
A government spokesman said: “The government is committed to taking full advantage of Brexit, which is why we are pushing ahead with our retained EU law, which will end the special legal status of all retained EU laws by 2023.”