The UK government on Wednesday scrapped an end-of-year deadline to ditch remaining European Union-era laws from the statute book -- angering Brexiteer Conservatives.
London had promised a post-Brexit “bonfire” of Brussels legislation when it left the bloc, after a 2016 referendum on whether to remain a member.
“Take back control” of British sovereignty was a campaigning slogan for Brexiteers, and right-wing Conservatives viewed the U-turn with dismay.
“Regrettably the prime minister (Rishi Sunak) has shredded his own promise rather than EU laws,” tweeted senior Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, a leading ally of Sunak’s predecessor Boris Johnson.
Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch said the government had already “revoked or reformed” more than 1,000 EU laws since the UK’s EU departure took full effect in 2020.
But she said in a written statement to parliament that government departments had identified a “growing volume” of retained EU law still in force.
Rather than meeting its pledge to scrap 4,000 items of EU legislation, the government will only revoke around 600 laws, Badenoch said, insisting the plan is “about more than a race to a deadline”.
There are “risks of legal uncertainty” by proceeding with wholesale change so soon, she said, after UK business groups had expressed alarm at more Brexit-related upheaval.
Trades unions had also been angered at the prospect of Britain retreating on EU workers’ rights, while green groups pointed to the dangers of withdrawing from environmental protections.
The government said it had no intention of abrogating such rights, and Badenoch wrote in the Daily Telegraph: “We will not abolish any law for the sake of it.”
The minister announced one deregulation measure, which she said would streamline bureaucracy for businesses while also enhancing workers’ rights.
The measure will cut “unnecessary red tape” inherited from the EU on recording weekly working hours, while giving employees more freedom to switch jobs by limiting “non-compete” clauses in contracts.
But unions reacted angrily to the overhaul of the EU-inherited “Working Time Directive,” which caps the working week at 48 hours.
Noting that many Britons are struggling with a cost-of-living crisis, Trades Union Congress general secretary Paul Nowak said: “People are already working all hours to make ends meet.
“This is a recipe for low-paid, burnt-out Britain,” he said.