Truss pledges to review all EU laws as Sunak vows to tackle NHS backlog

22 July 2022, 23:12

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss have made pledges for if they become prime minister
Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss have made pledges for if they become prime minister. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss have both made promises to the British public, with Ms Truss pledging to review all EU laws retained in the UK and Mr Sunak promising to tackle the NHS backlog.

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If she becomes prime minister, Ms Truss says she will scrap or replace EU laws that are deemed to hinder UK growth, saying she "believes that a red tape bonfire will encourage business investment".

The Foreign Secretary, who voted Remain in the 2016 referendum, is pitching herself as the "best candidate to deliver on the opportunities of Brexit" in a bid to gain the votes of Conservative members required to win the race for No 10.

Ms Truss said that, if elected, she would set a "sunset" deadline for every piece of EU-derived business regulation and assess whether it stimulates domestic growth or investment by the end of 2023.

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Industry experts would be tasked to create "better home-grown laws" to replace those that fail the test, if they are not ditched altogether.

However questions are likely to be raised over the feasibility of combing through more than 2,000 pieces of legislation in under a year and a half while the Civil Service faces cutbacks.

Plans set out last month by Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Cabinet Office minister responsible for "Brexit opportunities", to axe all remaining EU laws by June 2026 were met with criticism for this reason.

Liz Truss has promised to review every EU law retained in the UK after Brexit
Liz Truss has promised to review every EU law retained in the UK after Brexit. Picture: Alamy

Meanwhile Rishi Sunak will use his first major speech since reaching the final stage of the Tory leadership contest to set out plans to tackle NHS backlogs.

In a speech on Saturday in Grantham - the birthplace of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher - the former chancellor will pledge to create a so-called "vaccines style" taskforce on day one of his premiership dedicated to tackling NHS backlogs, warning that such delays are creating a "back door" to privatisation.

Mr Sunak will announce plans to eliminate one-year waiting times six months earlier than planned by September 2024, and to get overall numbers falling by next year.

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"Waiting times for everything from major surgery to a visit to the GP are at record levels," Mr Sunak will say as the campaign to win over Tory party members begins in earnest.

"Millions of people are waiting for life-saving cancer screening, major surgeries and consultations... Already many people are using money they can't really afford to go private. That is privatisation by the back door and it's wrong.

"People shouldn't have to make a choice with a gun to their head.

"If we do not immediately set in train a radically different approach the NHS will come under unsustainable pressure and break.

"And so from day one I will make tackling the NHS backlog my number one public service priority."

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Mr Sunak will say on Saturday that he is the candidate who can give the public "peace of mind" that NHS backlogs will be tackled.

"I'll take the best of our experience from Covid and establish at the centre of my government a Backlogs Taskforce to support the leadership of the NHS to triage and treat patients quicker," he will say.

Mr Sunak's five-point plan will include the creation of a backlogs taskforce, while also requiring all hospital trusts to audit waiting lists within a month.

He also backs a plan to expand the number of community diagnostic hubs by repurposing 58,000 vacant high street shops, with the aim of boosting the number of such hubs to 200 by March 2024.

His strategy comes with promises to cut bureaucracy in a bid to attract the best doctors, while also pledging to put patients in the "driving seat" by floating the idea of looking again at people having their own family doctor.

"Britain's heroic response to Covid proves that where the political will exists to really grip a problem, when we treat something as an emergency, we can bring everyone together and win the battle. That takes leadership," Mr Sunak will say.

Rishi Sunak has set out plans for tackling the NHS backlog
Rishi Sunak has set out plans for tackling the NHS backlog. Picture: Alamy

Critics warned Ms Truss' proposal could damage workers' rights.

Frances O'Grady, the general secretary of the TUC federation of trade unions, said that the plans were "cynical and reckless".

"Holiday pay, equal pay for women and men, safe limits on working hours and parental leave are just a few of the rights underpinned by retained EU law. These are all essential - not a nice to have," she said.

"Let's call this out for what it is - ideological posturing at the expense of ordinary working people."

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Catherine Barnard, deputy director of the UK in a Changing Europe think tank, warned that greater divergence from EU law would create further barriers to trade, both between the UK and the bloc and between Britain and Northern Ireland.

"The more divergence there is in practice the more checks that the EU will want to impose," she said. "The more divergence there is the more trade friction there will be."

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She also raised concerns that the plans work on the assumption that "any retained EU law is bad, but of course some of it has worked well", such as the Equalities Act.

"Is it going to be turned off entirely?" the EU law professor asked, adding that if it is to be replaced then there are questions over parliamentary time and Civil Service capacity.

The Truss campaign said the Equalities Act would not be included in their plans, arguing it is not EU law, though this is disputed.

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Rishi Sunak has said he would appoint a Brexit minister to go through the remaining 2,400 EU laws still on the statute book if he were to beat Ms Truss in the contest to replace Boris Johnson.

The minister would be instructed to come forward with the first set of recommendations for rules to be scrapped or changed within 100 days of Mr Sunak entering No 10.

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Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesperson Layla Moran said the Tory candidates' plans amounted to "pointless posturing over Europe" at a time when people are struggling with soaring bills.

She said: "The Conservative Government would do better to focus on fixing their botched trade deal with Europe which is drowning our businesses in red tape and raising prices in the shops.

"Neither Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak have got a plan to get the country through the cost of living emergency and NHS crisis. It shows why we need a general election as soon as the new prime minister is in place, so we can kick out this failing Conservative government for good."

Ms Truss also said she would scrap EU Solvency II rules, which make pension funds and insurers set aside capital to prove they can withstand a major shock, to "unlock billions of investment into UK infrastructure".

But she would introduce new regulation to preserve the Solvency II's original goal of protecting people's investments.

Mr Sunak has also pledged to ditch the Solvency II regulation to help investors put money into infrastructure assets.

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The final two candidates for prime minister will tour the UK over the summer to take part in 12 hustings for the Conservative Party members who will vote for their next leader.

The result will be announced on September 5.