12 MAY 2023 | NEWS
The governing Conservative Party appears riven with divisions over how to approach the issue of repealing extant EU laws following the UK’s exit from the European Union.
A row has blown up between senior Tory backbenchers and Number 10, following former Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg’s assertion that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had gone back on his word as regards the scrapping of legislation retained from Britain’s former membership of the European Union by the end of this year.
Mr Rees-Mogg told the Today programme: “It is hard enough to motivate Whitehall at the best of times – they are not necessarily coming into the office, they don’t seem to be working with the efficiency one would like.
“Without a deadline, nothing will happen and we will retain these EU laws for a long time.”
But current Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch defended the decision to water down the Government’s original plans, saying it still planned to be “ending EU supremacy”, but would just be “changing how we are doing it”.
It is understood in Westminster that 20 Conservative backbenchers went for a meeting with the Chief Whip, Simon Hart, to express their concerns on Wednesday, while some did the same in Downing Street.
The Retained EU Law Bill (REUL) was originally designed to set a deadline of 31 December this year, after which any EU laws not explicitly replaced through ministerial action would automatically expire.
But Ms Badenoch said on Wednesday that only 600 pieces of legislation would now be due to be scrapped by default, which she said was anticipated to rise to around 2,000 regulations by the end of the year.
An ongoing audit by civil servants has identified 4,800 retained laws thus far. The Government had originally intended to set this deadline in order to minimise disruption to businesses, while promising that regulatory burdens would eventually be removed.
The Opposition has confirmed its support for the Government’s U-turn, with Labour’s Shadow Business Secretary Justin Madders decrying the original plan as an “absolute shambles”.
“It was completely unrealistic, reckless and frankly arrogant to think they could strike 4,000 laws from the statute book in the timescale,” he said.
It comes amid paltry economic forecasts by the Bank of England, which increased interest rates today from 4.25% to 4.5% amid news that the economy contracted by 0.3% in March. The UK is presently lagging behind other major economies in recovering its growth following the coronavirus pandemic, still being 0.5% smaller.
Meanwhile, James Sunderland, the Conservative MP for Bracknell, has said the Tories are “all at risk” at the next election, warning his fellow MPs that it would be a “big mistake” to think any of their seats were safe.
While speaking on The Rundown podcast by PoliticsHome, however, he also said he thought there was a chance that the party could turn its electoral fortunes around if the Prime Minister is able to make good on his five pledges for governance, which include halving inflation and putting a stop to illegal crossings of the English Channel by migrants in small boats.
This follows the results of the local council elections held on 4 May, in which the Conservatives lost over 1,000 seats. Opposition parties, including Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens made significant gains, while Independent councillors (who sit for no party) also made net losses.
“We’ve got a whole series of fantastic Bills going through at the moment – and Rishi’s five pledges are absolutely right, and he’ll deliver on those,” Mr Sunderland told the programme. He added that the party needed to “get a lot better at telling people what it is they’re doing for them” prior to the next election, at both a local and national level.
Striking a more optimistic tone, however, he further stated: “I’m absolutely clear that following the macro events that we’ve seen, particularly the pandemic, the Ukraine invasion, and the effect of Brexit – if I’m being honest, I think that the offer will get better and better all the time.”
It has also been reported in The Express that some Conservative MPs believe the time is approaching to launch a leadership challenge against the Prime Minister by submitting letters of no confidence. This was also the party’s process that brought down its three previous leaders – Theresa May, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.
One MP reportedly said: “Really, this is so bad that we are now in no confidence vote territory.”
The latest voting intention poll by Techne UK would see Labour winning 45% of the national vote share if a General Election were held today, compared to 28% for the Conservatives.