By Peter McLaren-Kennedy • 31 January 2022 • 7:51
The under fire prime minister has come out fighting promising a ‘Brexit Freedoms Bill’ to unleash the benefits of Brexit, however the announcement has resulted in criticism from the devolved nations who say the government is undermining their agreement.
Johnson has promised to remove more than £1bn worth of red tape for British businesses as he fights to keep himself in the job. The proposed bill would apparently allow ministers to remove EU laws that were retained as part of the divorce from the EU.
It is believed that “Operation Red Meat” is seen by Mr Johnson and Whitehall as a way of shoring up support from Conservative MPs with a flurry of attractive-looking policies for traditional Tory voters.
No 10 has promised to bring the bill forward in the months ahead, which when passed would make it easier for ministers to remove or amend laws laws retained from the UK’s 47-year membership of the EU. The idea of this bill has been criticised before with many MPs believing it will allow ministers to bypass parliament.
Downing Street said, under current rules, reforming and repealing such laws would take several years due to the need for primary legislation for many changes, even if minor and technical.
The new bill is aimed at ensuring that changes can be made more easily and quickly, while Number 10 said the bill was also expected to end the “special status” of EU law, made before 1 January 2020, in the UK’s legal framework.
Apparently the plans are intended to build on the work of former Brexit minister Lord Frost, who launched a drive to scrutinise thousands of remaining EU regulations and to identify those that could be improved or repealed.
Officials across government are currently continuing that review of retained Brussels laws, even though Lord Frost has since quit the government amid concern at the “direction of travel” of Mr Johnson’s administration.
The government has also said that they will also publish a new document setting out how ministers are and will use new post-Brexit freedoms to benefit the UK’s economy in areas such as artificial intelligence, data, transport, and the environment.
Mr Johnson said: “Getting Brexit done two years ago today was a truly historic moment and the start of an exciting new chapter for our country.
“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.
“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.”
Attorney General Suella Braverman said that setting up a mechanism to deal with retained EU law was “essential”.
“It means we can move away from outdated EU laws that were the result of unsatisfactory compromises within the EU, some of which the UK voted and lobbied against – but was required to adopt without question,” she added.
The announcement has been criticised by all the devolved nations who say there has been little discussion on the issue with the government, only vague outlines.
Scottish Culture Secretary Angus Robertson criticised the idea, which he said was devised with “little discussion, consultation with, or indeed respect for, the Scottish parliament and government”.
He added: “This makes a mockery of the UK government’s recent commitment to reset relationships with the devolved governments.
“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.”
Meanwhile, Labour highlighted one area where the government is so far refusing to take advantage of the post-Brexit ability to diverge from EU rules.
Shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry said: “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.
“The British public overwhelmingly support Labour’s proposed change, and it is time the government started listening.”
During the 2016 EU referendum campaign, Mr Johnson’s Vote Leave campaign hailed a cut to VAT on energy bills as one of the potential benefits of Brexit.
Earlier this month, Conservative MPs voted against a Labour motion to cut VAT on household energy bills. One MP even lost the Tory whip after voting in favour of the motion.
Devolved nations and others are cynical about why the Brexit freedoms bill is being brought forward now and without consultation.
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Originally from South Africa, Peter is based on the Costa Blanca and is a web reporter for the Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news.
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