Belfast Telegraph

Brexiteers suggest business creates a list of rules for repeal or reform

Senior Conservative Brexiteers have urged business to draw up a list of Brussels regulations to be repealed or reformed when the UK quits the EU.

Prime Minister Theresa May has spelt out plans for a Great Repeal Bill to translate the entirety of EU legislation into British law before Brexit, so that decisions can be taken later on which should be abolished or amended.

Former Cabinet minsters Michael Gove and John Whittingdale suggested that businesses could assist the process by drawing up a list now of rules which they find onerous and unnecessary.

Speaking at a hearing of the House of Commons Exiting the EU Committee, Mr Gove highlighted a Government-commissioned report by former Marks and Spencer boss Mark Bolland which in 2013 recommended the removal of a range of red tape measures - including some relating to health and safety and employment law.

Questioning CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn, the former justice secretary asked: "Would you be able to write back to the committee with a view that your members have on those directives and what their own current assessment of the applicability or scope for reform of those directives might be?"

Mr Whittingdale asked Ms Fairbairn: "To what extent has the CBI examined the opportunities which may exist to reduce the burden of regulation and the costs on business and improve your competitiveness and are you working on an analysis to present to government for potential repeal or reduction?"

The ex-culture secretary said the Great Repeal Bill "gives us an opportunity to try to seek out better regulation which is going to reduce the cost on business, make us more competitive but not undermine protections we think are still important".

Ms Fairbairn said that working out which regulations could be scrapped was "absolutely the right thing to do".

But she warned that seeking to cut back on red tape before the terms of Brexit were finalised would "unsettle a lot of businesses" who were expecting the rulebook to remain unchanged in the immediate aftermath of withdrawal.

And TUC secretary general Frances O'Grady warned the committee that a bonfire of regulations would expose British workers to a "race to the bottom" on employment conditions and risk making the UK the "bargain basement capital of Europe".

Former British Chambers of Commerce boss John Longworth, who co-chairs the Leave Means Leave group, said the opportunities for deregulation were "legion".

The UK could "easily" remove 10% of EU rules without harming workers' rights, he said, citing examples like labelling rules requiring smoked salmon packets to be marked "may contain fish" and protections for newts which are rare on the continent but common in Britain.

But Ms Fairbairn cautioned MPs against focusing on "silly" anecdotal stories about over-regulation, which she said were of less concern to her members than the threat of losing access to European markets.

Many companies welcomed regulations which provided a "level playing field" on issues like labelling and which prevented "dangerous cowboys" from overseas operating trucks in the UK, she said.

And Ms O'Grady told the committee: "I would hope that all of us will want to avoid a race to the bottom and I am not reassured by the process of a Great Repeal Bill, as I don't think there will be time and opportunity to scrutinise issues like employment rights that are so important to so many people."

She added: "Whichever way people voted in the referendum, you will be hard pushed to find any working person who voted for worse rights.

"They don't want to fall behind French, German and Italian workers and end up as cut-price labour."

Mr Longworth said that the plan for Brexit which Mrs May had promised to release should indicate a "direction of travel" which would take Britain out of the European single market and customs union.

If Mrs May fails to do this, he said, "we are in danger of wasting a lot of time in negotiations over the next 18 months when we should be directing Whitehall to spend time having conversations on free trade deals and drawing up a shortlist of regulations that can be removed on Brexit day plus one.

"That's what we should spend the next 18 months doing."

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