Brexit bonfire U-turn: how long will EU laws remain in UK?

The government climbdown has angered Brexiteer Conservative MPs who may cause trouble for Rishi Sunak

Brexit bonfire Badenoch
Kemi Badenoch, the business secretary, announced that Rishi Sunak’s pledge is being scrapped
(Image credit: Illustrated/Getty Images)

The government has announced a U-turn on its plans to remove all EU laws from British statute books by the end of the year in a move that has been criticised by Tory Brexiteers.

The Retained EU Law Bill, which is currently going through Parliament and recently passed its Commons stages, included a “sunset clause” that would require Whitehall officials to select which laws to save.

But on Wednesday, the government confirmed that this clause will be ditched in a written ministerial statement from Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch.

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“This provides certainty for business by making it clear which regulations will be removed from our statute book, instead of highlighting only the [EU law] that would be saved,” she said.

The move means that “only EU laws specifically chosen to be repealed will be scrapped”, said The Independent, “with the rest automatically becoming UK law at the end of the year”.

What did the papers say?

The government U-turn on the Retained EU Law Bill not only “turns the logic of the bill on its head”, added The Independent, but it has “enraged” some of the Conservative Party’s hardcore Brexiteers, who are “keen to expunge the influence of Brussels from the statute books” as soon as possible.

Brexiteer Tory MPs were “muttering darkly” about Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s leadership campaign video last night, in which boxes of EU regulations were dumped into a shredder, said Politico’s London Playbook. The Conservative leader pledged to repeal all EU-era laws and regulations in his first 100 days in office – but since then civil servants have found “more than 2,000 new ones”.

Speaking to the Press Association, arch-Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg criticised Sunak and said the U-turn “breaks the prime minister’s clear promise to review or appeal all EU laws in his first hundred days”.

Rees-Mogg called the watered-down pledge an “admission of administrative failure, an inability of Whitehall to do the necessary work and an incapability of ministers to push this through their own departments”. He added: “Regrettably, ‘the blob’ has triumphed and the prime minister has abandoned his promise.”

But speaking to GB News, Home Office minister Sarah Dines insisted the decision was “not quite a U-turn”. She defended the plan as a “more calculated, calm way of getting rid of some of these laws”.

The move is another “capitulation” for Sunak, in what is a “fifth climbdown in almost as many months”, said Richard Vaughan for the i news site.

But Sunak may have “burned through yet more political capital for little gain”, having angered the right of his party but also doing little to “quell the discontent” in the House of Lords.

“Coming just days after his party suffered a woeful set of results at the local elections, and with more Lords battles looming over the highly controversial small boats bill, the PM can ill afford such political missteps”, added Vaughan.

Making Badenoch responsible for “implementing, or more accurately, abandoning” his pledge to repeal EU laws before the end of the year is an “intriguing subplot” in the whole saga, said Stephen Bush in the Financial Times.

Badenoch has a “good chance” of becoming the next Conservative leader, but while her position is strong, she is “also highly vulnerable”. And being “saddled” with the difficult job of explaining why Sunak’s pledge to scrap EU laws by the end of the year should be ditched opens her up to being seen as “nobody’s candidate: neither rightwing enough for the party’s right or establishment enough for the party’s elders”.

What next?

According to the FT, the government will publish a list of the approximately 600 EU laws that will be revoked by the end of 2023.

Around 1,000 EU regulations have already been repealed, and an additional 500 will be removed via the Financial Services and Markets Bill and the Procurement Bill, both of which are currently being considered in Parliament, said Badenoch in her statement to MPs.

“We will retain the vitally important powers in the Bill that allow us to continue to amend EU laws, so more complex regulation can still be revoked or reformed after proper assessment and consultation,” she told MPs, indicating that more laws could be revoked in future.

One source speaking to The Times suggested that Tory rebels may try to restore the original legislation when it returns to the Commons later in the summer.

But as things stand, the move “means that around 2,800 EU laws could remain in force in the UK into 2024”, said the FT.

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 Sorcha Bradley is a writer at The Week and a regular on “The Week Unwrapped” podcast. She worked at The Week magazine for a year and a half before taking up her current role with the digital team, where she mostly covers UK current affairs and politics. Before joining The Week, Sorcha worked at slow-news start-up Tortoise Media. She has also written for Sky News, The Sunday Times, the London Evening Standard and Grazia magazine, among other publications. She has a master’s in newspaper journalism from City, University of London, where she specialised in political journalism.