Government pauses Brexit 'bonfire' bill ahead of local elections

Tue 11 Apr 2023
Posted by: Phillip Adnett
Trade News

UK parliament and Westminster with EU and UK flags overlayed

The government has paused progress on its planned move to repeal and replace thousands of EU laws.

The Observer reports that ministers have halted the report stage of the bill over Easter, partly in response to concerns over a rebellion in the House of Lords in the run-up to the local elections, taking place on 4 May.

Analysis from the BBC suggests that the Conservative party is expecting a bad set of results in the elections – with some senior figures fearing losses running to the thousands – and the government will likely want to avoid any damaging public rows.

Conservative peers were said to be considering working with crossbench independents, as well as Liberal Democrat and Labour counterparts, on opposition to the bill, although the government is expected to make concessions.

No retreat

A government spokesman denied that the move was a retreat, stating that “we are fully committed to the retained EU law bill”.

The bill would have removed more than 4,000 pieces of EU legislation from the UK statute book, relying on a “sunset clause” that would have condemned any legislation not converted into UK law by the end of 2023 to drop off the statute book.

Business opposition

Business and social groups had lobbied against this move, with legal experts warning the rush was “dangerous” due to the lack of scrutiny on any changes, according to the Independent.

Grace Thompson, public affairs lead at the Institute of Export & International Trade, said:

“There has been speculation for some time as to how this bill will be implemented and what its end effects will be, particularly for the UK’s trade relationship with the EU. Given the large scope of the bill, this 'pause-in-progress' could provide some breathing space for the government to ensure that there is sufficient time for departments to undertake the 'retain or reform’ process successfully.”

“It is important that businesses also have the time they might need to input into any government consultation processes on which clauses should be retained or reformed and many of them will be watching next steps on this bill carefully.”

Administrative history

As reported previously by the IOE&IT Daily Update, the bill had its second reading in the Lords in early February.

During the debate, government peers stated that the bill would encourage economic growth and was a key benefit of Brexit, while critics described the legislation as a “recipe for chaos” and said that it could create gaps in UK law.

The Telegraph reports that bill could be paused until after the 2024 election, possibly giving the opposition Labour Party the chance to consider whether to advance the bill.

Ideas such as a smaller repeal of “obviously redundant” EU laws or extending the date of the sunset clause beyond the end of the year are under consideration.