LONDON (AP) — Britain’s bonfire of European Union laws has been reduced to embers.
The U.K. government on Wednesday scrapped a plan to remove all remaining EU laws, about 4,000 in all, from British statute books by the end of this year — a post-Brexit goal that critics said was rash and unachievable.
Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch said in a written statement that the government would instead draw up a list of about 600 specific laws that would be revoked. Badenoch acknowledged there were “risks of legal uncertainty” if all EU laws were ditched by the end of the year.
A lawmaker from the opposition Labour Party, Jenny Chapman, called the announcement “a humiliating U-turn from a weak and divided government.”
Thousands of pieces of EU law were cut-and-pasted into U.K. legislation when Britain left the bloc in 2020 after decades of membership, to ensure continuity for people and businesses.
The government's Retained EU Law Bill would have automatically removed all of them at the end of the year unless they were explicitly replaced or retained. Champions of Brexit said the move would slash red tape and loosen regulation for businesses.
Critics argued that reviewing a huge number of laws in a rush would lead to rules being rewritten without proper parliamentary scrutiny. Opponents also worried that the government would weaken workers’ rights and environmental standards in its rush to discard the EU’s way of doing things.
Former Prime Minister Liz Truss introduced the bill during her ill-fated seven weeks in office last year. Sunak, her successor, decided to keep it. During an earlier failed leadership bid against Truss, Sunak had vowed to scrap all EU legislation within his first 100 days in office, and recorded a campaign video showing him feeding reams of paper labeled “EU legislation” into a shredder.
The bill was approved by the House of Commons, where the governing Conservative Party has a majority, but ran into opposition in Parliament’s upper chamber, the House of Lords.
Business groups breathed a sigh of relief at Wednesday's announcement. Jane Gratton of the British Chambers of Commerce said that U.K. business leaders had been “worried about the headlong rush towards the sudden removal of vast swathes of legislation overnight that could make it harder to compete internationally.”
“It is welcome that government has listened, and the bill will no longer apply a blanket sunset clause in this way, with the real risk of unintended but negative consequences,” she said.