Brexit Freedoms Bill: what is it, why Boris Johnson plans to ditch EU laws and UK devolved nations backlash

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Downing Street claims the move will “cut £1 billion of red tape” for businesses - but the plan has been criticised by the devolved governments

The Government has unveiled plans that will make it easier to overhaul “outdated” EU laws copied over after Brexit.

Downing Street claims the move will “cut £1 billion of red tape” for UK businesses.

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However, the plan has been heavily criticised by the devolved governments.

Here we take a look at what the “Brexit Freedoms” Bill is and the reaction to the plan.

What is the ‘Brexit Freedoms’ Bill?

The ‘Brexit Freedoms’ Bill will impact the handling of EU laws retained after Brexit.

The UK copied over the laws after its exit from the EU on 31 January 2020.

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It has also kept them during the transition period that ended in January last year.

The Government has unveiled plans that will make it easier to overhaul “outdated” EU laws copied over after Brexit (Getty Images)The Government has unveiled plans that will make it easier to overhaul “outdated” EU laws copied over after Brexit (Getty Images)
The Government has unveiled plans that will make it easier to overhaul “outdated” EU laws copied over after Brexit (Getty Images) | Getty Images

Since September 2021, the government has been reviewing which of these laws it wants to keep in place - and those it wants to amend or ditch.

However, retained EU laws have a legal status of their own and there is a special process for changing them.

The Government has previously made it clear that it wants to eventually amend, replace or repeal all of the laws that it deems “not right for the UK”.

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Downing Street said that under the current rules that would take “several years” because of the long-winded alteration process.

What has the Government said about the ‘Brexit Freedoms’ Bill?

The new Bill will “ensure that changes can be made more easily”, so the UK can “capitalise on Brexit freedoms more quickly”, Downing Street said.

A spokesperson said: “Despite our exit from the bloc, EU laws made before January 1 2020 continue to have precedence in our domestic framework.

“This is simply not compatible with our status as a sovereign, independent country and the Government will bring it to an end as quickly as possible.”

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Officials are sifting through all of the retained laws “to determine if they are beneficial to the UK”, Downing Street added.

However, it did specify exactly how the Bill will speed up reforms or how it calculated that business would save £1 billion through the cutting of red tape.

Boris Johnson said: “Getting Brexit done two years ago today was a truly historic moment and the start of an exciting new chapter for our country.

“We have made huge strides since then to capitalise on our newfound freedoms and restore the UK’s status as a sovereign, independent country that can determine its own future.

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“The plans we have set out today will further unleash the benefits of Brexit and ensure that businesses can spend more of their money investing, innovating and creating jobs.

“Our new Brexit Freedoms Bill will end the special status of EU law in our legal framework and ensure that we can more easily amend or remove outdated EU law in future”.

What have the devolved governments said about the‘Brexit Freedoms’ Bill?

Scottish Culture Secretary Angus Robertson criticised the idea, which he said was devised with “little discussion, consultation with, or indeed respect for, the Scottish Parliament and Government”.

He added: “This makes a mockery of the UK Government’s recent commitment to reset relationships with the devolved governments.

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“Within days of the UK Government promising more respectful ways of working, we were informed of what is clearly a rushed exercise over the weekend with nothing more than a vague verbal briefing.

“If these proposals involve changing the law in devolved policy areas, then pressing ahead without the consent of the Scottish Parliament would demonstrate yet again the UK Government’s intent to undermine devolution.”

Mick Antoniw, the Welsh Minister for the Constitution, said the UK Government was driving a "coach and horses through the concept of mutual consent".

He told the BBC: "The government has been unable to provide assurances that it’s plans for future changes in dealing with ‘retained’ EU law would not affect the devolution settlement."

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Meanwhile, Emily Thornberry, Labour’s shadow attorney general, criticised the Government for not using Brexit to scrap VAT on energy bills.

She said: “For all this talk from the Government about the potential legislative freedom we have outside the EU, they still refuse to make a concrete change the Labour Party has been demanding in this area for months, which is the removal of VAT on people’s energy bills.

“The British public overwhelmingly support Labour’s proposed change, and it is time the Government started listening.”

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