Brexit Freedoms Bill: what the new draft legislation means for UK

Downing Street wants to end special status EU law still holds in UK's legal framework

Houses of Parliament
(Image credit: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Boris Johnson has announced plans for new legislation that makes it easier to rip up EU laws and regulations that have remained in the UK statute book following Brexit.

According to the government, the Brexit Freedoms Bill will “cut £1bn of red tape for businesses, ease regulatory burdens” and clear hurdles that are blocking the “mission to unite and level up the country” after quitting the bloc two years ago.

The bill will make it easier to amend or remove “outdated” EU laws that remained in place after the UK left the EU as a “bridging measure” to provide legal certainty for the country in the post-Brexit period, No. 10 said. The proposed legislation will also accompany a “major” government push to “reform, repeal and replace” old EU laws and regulations.

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The bill will also end the “special status” of EU law in the UK’s legal system, ending the precedence EU laws made before 1 January 2020 currently retain over the country’s “domestic framework”.

The plans will be viewed by Westminster as part of Johnson’s “Operation Red Meat” – a populist policy blitz designed to “shore up support from Conservative MPs with a flurry of attractive-looking policies for traditional Tory voters”, said Sky News’ political reporter Greg Heffer.

The government will also publish a “new riposte” to critics who claim “little advantage of Brexit has been taken” with the publication of a new policy document titled The Benefits of Brexit: How the UK Is Taking Advantage of Leaving the EU, said The Guardian.

The document will claim that post-Brexit reforms have “led to a more agile digital and AI sector and a less burdensome data rights regime compared with the EU’s GDPR”, as well as benefits in “changing clinical trials, strengthening environmental protections and establishing a domestic subsidy regime”.

Devolved administrations accuse government of ‘post-Brexit power grab’

In the plans released on Sunday night, Johnson called Brexit “a truly historic moment and the start of an exciting new chapter for our country.

“We have made huge strides [to] capitalise on our newfound freedoms and restore the UK’s status as a sovereign, independent country that can determine its own future. The plans we have set out today will further unleash the benefits of Brexit and ensure that businesses can spend more of their money investing, innovating and creating jobs,” he added.

But the “upbeat assessment” of the UK’s post-Brexit record is “likely to be challenged by pro-Europe critics who have noted analysis of the economic impact”, said The Telegraph’s political editor Ben Riley-Smith.

The Office for Budget Responsibility has estimated that the UK’s economic growth has been “lower since Brexit than it would have been if the UK remained in the EU”, he reported.

Devolved administrations have reacted with concern to the news warning the government that removing legacy EU laws risks “driving a coach and horses” through the constitutional settlements of devolved nations and threatening their political autonomy, reported the Financial Times (FT).

The paper reported that Scottish and Welsh ministers “expressed their concerns” during a phone call over the weekend with UK attorney general Suella Braverman and other ministers, according to sources.

The devolved governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland fear the new legislation will “hand powers” to Westminster in key areas such as fisheries and environmental, food and water standards – powers that have long been devolved.

Mick Antoniw, the Welsh minister for the constitution, said the UK government’s approach was driving a “coach and horses through the concept of mutual consent”, a key basis of the devolution settlement.

The Scottish minister for the constitution, Angus Robertson, branded the proposed legislation a “post-Brexit power grab”.

“They will argue it’s about the efficiency of the market and creating an effective level playing field, but it’s not really about that,” he said.

The UK government has said it would “continue to work closely with the devolved administrations”.

Other critics of Johnson’s plans have said he “must make clear whether he intends to target employment protections” and pointed out that business and government “have already faced billions of pounds of costs as a result of additional red tape due to Brexit itself”, said The Guardian.

Sarah Olney, the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for business, said: “If this is the best Boris Johnson can muster up to save his job, then he is in big trouble. Try telling the thousands of lorry drivers stuck in queues at Dover that red tape is being cut.”

Meanwhile, Labour’s shadow attorney general, Emily Thornberry, criticised the government’s failure to use its ability to diverge from EU rules by removing VAT on energy bills.

“For all this talk from the government about the potential legislative freedom we have outside the EU, they still refuse to make a concrete change the Labour Party has been demanding in this area for months, which is the removal of VAT on people’s energy bills,” she told Sky News.

“The British public overwhelmingly support Labour’s proposed change, and it is time the government started listening.”

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