Tuesday, November 29, 2022

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Brexit rush to scrap EU laws ‘endangers safety standards’

Food safety standards, animal welfare and consumer rights are all threatened by the government’s “ruthlessly irresponsible” attempt to scrap EU laws within months, safety watchdogs have warned.

Officials are rushing to rewrite oodles of existing rules because former so-called Brexit Opportunities Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg wants to rid the country of Brussels-originated rules by the end of 2023.

Trade standards officials have now said they are concerned the ministers’ plans could result in dangerous products ending up on UK shelves, new diseases on farms and new ways for scammers to rip people off.

Watchdogs warned Rishi Sunak that the rush to quickly rewrite the law is dangerous and that “inevitable” mistakes will creep in — with unpredictable and potentially disastrous consequences.

The Retained EU Law Bill was dreamed up by Jacob Rees-Mogg, former Brexit Secretary of State for Equal Opportunities, and his predecessor Lord Frost – and is widely seen as a politically motivated move to placate hard-core Brexiters.

The Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI), the professional body for trading standards, says the timeline outlined in the bill has raised “widespread concern among consumer protection experts.”

The panel wrote to Mr Sunak, along with a dozen other organizations including the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, the British Safety Industry Federation and the Child Accident Prevention Trust, to warn of the dangers.

“Rushing legislation that could undermine those protections would have potentially disastrous consequences and could ultimately endanger lives,” she said in her letter to the prime minister.

“According to the Government’s proposed timeline, thousands of complex and vital pieces of legislation will have to be reviewed, rewritten – and potentially scrapped, in just over a year. Errors, omissions and contradictions are inevitable.”

The government says public safety is its “top priority” and that the bill “enables us to ensure that our laws and regulations best meet the needs of the country”.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) launched the legislation in the Autumn and said its plan was “the culmination of a journey that began on 23 June 2016 when more than 17 million UK citizens and Gibraltar voted for the UK to leave the European Union”.

However, Labor MP Yvonne Fovargue, leader of the cross-party parliamentary group on consumer protection, said the concern expressed by trade standards experts “is not about fighting fights over Brexit”.

“It’s more about making sure we have good regulations that protect consumers and keep people safe,” she said.

“Yes, we should always check the regulations and make sure they are fit for purpose. But let’s not play with a fantasy agenda that equates regulation with barriers to trade and growth. This is nonsense.

“Good regulation benefits businesses and consumers alike. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

The government’s former head of legal services, Jonathan Jones, warned last month that the ministers’ plans were “completely ideological and symbolic and not really political”, saying it was likely to cause chaos.

And on Thursday, the Trades Union Congress and business groups like the Institute of Directors and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) also said the law should be scrapped because it would cause “significant confusion and disruption for businesses, workers, and those who want to protect the environment” by “sweeping away thousands of pieces of legislation and established legal principles”.

Clause 1 of the Retained EU Law Bill introduces a sunset clause that automatically deletes all retained EU law in domestic secondary law and retained direct EU law, unless officials intervene and create rewritten UK versions. These categories typically cover areas such as standards and safety regulations.

The bill includes the possibility of extending the sunset period from late 2023 to 2026, but the letter to Mr Sunak warns that even if that were to happen, the time for consideration would be limited – particularly given the rush of the expected 2024 parliamentary timetable Parliamentary elections and ongoing economic crisis.

“As the country grapples with a cost-of-living crisis that is wreaking increasing havoc on consumers by the day, it seems shortsighted at best and reckless at worst to scrap the laws that serve as a bulwark against the rising tide of irresponsible threats ‘ the letter warns.

“We are writing to express our deep concern that retained EU law, in its current form, could cause serious damage to the people, businesses, environment and economy of the UK.”

BEIS has been overseen by Cabinet Secretary Grant Shapps since Mr Sunak’s appointment.

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