Rishi Sunak has once again announced that he will create a new Brexit delivery unit tasked with reviewing or repealing every remaining EU law – “all 2,400 of them” – on the statute book “with the first set of recommendations published within my first 100 days”. This is in order to ‘Keep Brexit Safe’. The number is however only a fraction of the EU laws apparently on the UK statute book.
To ram home the message that he first announced three weeks ago, his team has put together a video of the ex-chancellor shredding all of these EU laws accompanied by part of Beethoven’s ninth symphony, on which the EU’s anthem Ode to Joy is based. This is obviously for the benefit of simple party members who need painting by numbers in order to picture what shredding EU laws might actually look like.
By my reckoning it will be the 21st such initiative looking at burdensome EU red tape since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, all of which have sunk without trace. On no account should anyone hold their breath for this latest effort.
Of all the unfulfillable pledges made by the two candidates in the Conservative leadership race, this is at the very top of the list. It will only happen before Christmas of course if he is elected leader although Liz Truss has promised to do much the same by the end of 2023.
Nevertheless, there are a couple of mysteries here that need clearing up.
Some of the 2,400 EU laws have already been shredded
First of all, the 2,400 (a number also used by Brexit minister Jacob Rees-Mogg) is not quite right. Some EU laws have already been ‘shredded’, which Sunak should have realised had he bothered to check the retained EU law public dashboard (REUL).
Using the REUL explorer tab you can see easily that of the 2,417 EU laws Rees-Mogg started with, only 2,006 remain unchanged. Some 182 have already been amended, 33 have been replaced and 196 repealed.
You would think the government would be shouting this ‘progress’ from the rooftops and have it amplified through The Sun or The Daily Express – until that is you look at what it all means. The 33 EU laws that have been ‘replaced’ seem to have simply been incorporated directly into UK law by virtue of Section 3 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. This is stuff like eco-design requirements for washing machines or electronic displays or noise levels of railway rolling stock.
The 196 laws that have been repealed includes directives like establishing a common methodology for the calculation of annual sales of portable batteries to end-users, or laws setting out a discard plan for Venus shells (a sort of saltwater clam) found in certain Italian coastal waters.
This is not so much low hanging fruit as shrivelled examples that fell off the tree months ago and have already rotted on the ground. It is hardly the sort of thing UKIP types get exercised about down at the Dog and Duck.
However, even meeting the reduced number of 2,006 means reviewing 20 laws a day, including weekends (fortunately there are no bank holidays between 5 September and 14 December), and coming to a decision about what to do with them.
But what about the other 18,000 EU laws?
In any case, even the 2,417 is little more than 10% of the 20,319 EU laws in force in the UK. What will happen to the other 17,902? I think we should be told.
How do I know the exact number? This is down to secret ‘taxpayer’-funded research carried out in 2017, but not released until July 2019 following a freedom of information request to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) and an information tribunal decision in May 2019 in favour of Jenna Corderoy, a journalist from OpenDemocracy.
The detailed research was carried out by none other than the European Research Group (ERG) funded by Tory MPs using expenses, which they then claimed back from the public purse.
IPSA had checked that the ERG were actually doing genuine research as opposed to party-political activity and campaigning work that would have been ineligible for funding through expenses. IPSA found it was genuine and “did not constitute party political work and that the costs of the service did not constitute campaign expenditure”. But they ruled that examples of ERG work they examined could not be released because to do so “would jeopardise IPSA’s relationship with the ERG”.
However, at a later tribunal, Judge Chris Hughes said it was “important not to conflate research that [IPSA] suggests the academic community aspires to produce – high quality, reliable based on identified evidence and sources and neutral, with briefing material produced to give individual MPs arguments on issues they are concerned about”.
He ordered two tranches of ‘research’ from 2016 and 2017 in IPSA’s possession to be released in the interests of transparency.
One ERG document deals with The Great Repeal Bill and it starts with this:
To help identify policy areas the ERG ‘researchers’ provide a table in the text:
Footnote 4 takes you to an EU website which provides a directory apparently listing a much larger list of ‘legal acts’.
The ERG told Tory MPs there were more than 20,000 EU laws “in force” in the UK, so the question for Sunak, Truss and Rees-Mogg, who as a member of the ERG presumably helped to fund the original research, is this: was the 20,319 figure correct and if so when will they tackle the remaining 17,902 EU laws still in force?
If the figure isn’t correct, and if the planned review of the 2,006 EU laws doesn’t result in anything substantial being removed from the stature book, does that mean Brexit has all been a waste of time?