Govt announces 'Brexit Freedoms' Bill to remove 'outdated' EU law

31 January 2022, 00:01

Boris Johnson has said the new Bill will allow the UK to 'restore its status as a sovereign country'
Boris Johnson has said the new Bill will allow the UK to 'restore its status as a sovereign country'. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

The Government has announced a new Bill that it says will remove "outdated" laws and enable the UK to "capitalise on Brexit freedoms".

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The "Brexit Freedoms" Bill will make it easier to amend EU law retained in the UK, as part of a drive which it claims will "cut £1 billion of red tape" for UK businesses.

"Getting Brexit done two years ago today was a truly historic moment and the start of an exciting new chapter for our country," said Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

"We have made huge strides since then to capitalise on our newfound freedoms and restore the UK's status as a sovereign, independent country that can determine its own future.

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He added: "Our new Brexit Freedoms Bill will end the special status of EU law in our legal framework and ensure that we can more easily amend or remove outdated EU law in future."

The announcement comes at the peak of the partygate scandal, which has embroiled the Government for the last few months following allegations of a string of lockdown-breaching parties held in Downing Street.

Sue Gray's report into the parties is due to be handed to the PM any day now - although it is expected to be a heavily-redacted version owing to the ongoing Metropolitan Police investigation.

Some regulations made in Brussels were preserved in UK law for the sake of continuity after the Brexit transition period ended in 2020.

The Government has previously made clear that it intends to eventually amend, replace or repeal all of the retained law that it deems "not right for the UK".

But Downing Street said that under current rules, changing or scrapping regulations would take "several years" because of a long-winded alteration process.

It said primary legislation is needed for many changes, even if "minor and technical".

Downing Street said the new Bill will "ensure that changes can be made more easily", so the UK can "capitalise on Brexit freedoms more quickly".

The Government did not specify exactly what provisions the Bill will contain to speed up reforms, or how it calculated that businesses would save £1 billion through the cutting of red tape.

Officials are sifting through all of the retained laws "to determine if they are beneficial to the UK", Downing Street said.

The Prime Minister previously said his administration wanted to "cut back on EU red tape" and restore "common sense to our rulebooks" in 2022.

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Suella Braverman, the Attorney General, said the new Bill meant the UK could move away from laws that were the result of "unsatisfactory compromises within the EU".

"These rules often had limited meaningful parliamentary scrutiny, and no democratic legitimacy in the UK at all," she said.

"It is vital that we take the steps necessary, in this Parliament, to remove unnecessary rules altogether, and where regulation is needed, ensure that it meets the UK's objectives."

The Bill is also expected to end the special status that EU law holds in the UK's legal framework.

"Despite our exit from the bloc, EU laws made before January 1 2020 continue to have precedence in our domestic framework," Downing Street said.

"This is simply not compatible with our status as a sovereign, independent country and the Government will bring it to an end as quickly as possible."

Meanwhile, the Government has published a new policy document setting out how it intends to take advantage of Brexit to "transform the UK into the best regulated economy in the world".

Emily Thornberry, Labour's shadow attorney general, said the Government was ignoring legislative issues closer to home.

"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," said Ms Thornberry.

"The British public overwhelmingly support Labour's proposed change, and it is time the Government started listening."

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Scottish Culture Secretary Angus Robertson also criticised the idea, which he said was devised with "little discussion, consultation with, or indeed respect for, the Scottish Parliament and Government".

"This makes a mockery of the UK Government's recent commitment to reset relationships with the devolved governments," he added.

"Within days of the UK Government promising more respectful ways of working, we were informed of what is clearly a rushed exercise over the weekend with nothing more than a vague verbal briefing.

"If these proposals involve changing the law in devolved policy areas, then pressing ahead without the consent of the Scottish Parliament would demonstrate yet again the UK Government's intent to undermine devolution."