Broken Eggs. No Omelette.
Tories are always keen to present tax cuts as essential to business confidence and investment, growth and making a country a desirable place to work and live. They are markedly less keen to focus on other factors affecting business and personal decisions. Let’s take two of them: good governance and certainty about the laws affecting you. Yes, I’m afraid it’s time to revisit the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill and the Bill of Rights Bill. (Yes, it is clunky. Address complaints to Raab, the Bill’s sponsor. We can add crimes against the English language and history to the charge sheet he faces.)
The Retained EU Law Bill is Rees-Mogg’s changeling, based on the belief that the moment Britain casts off all EU laws it will revert to its Garden of Eden, a British garden you understand, before the Fall and the accretion of oppressive, unnecessary EU rules. Like pretty much everything said by Rees-Mogg, this is nonsense. The Bill proposes to get rid of all EU laws by the end of this year, other than those Ministers decide to keep or change. Any law not reviewed or revoked by the end of 2023 will automatically drop off the statute book. Difficult laws (unspecified) could be extended until 2026.
This might work if we were dealing with a handful of laws. But we’re not. There are ca. 4,000 laws across every aspect of life to consider: employment, environment, food and product safety, consumer rights, financial services, VAT, data protection, cyber security, intellectual property, insolvency, business transfers etc.,. It is a vast amount of law underpinning every aspect of daily and commercial life. Businesses have made investment decisions, structured themselves, trained their staff, developed products on the basis of this. Then there is all the case law arising out of and dependant on these laws and general principles of EU law (which will no longer apply), together with all the subsidiary regulations. (In the 223 business days to New Year’s Eve there at least 18 laws to consider every day in every government department. On top of all the other work of the executive. And events. This would tax the most competent well run administration imaginable. It will overwhelm the government and administration we currently have.)
Now all this is to be swept away. How? By whom? Deciding which of these laws to keep in whole or in part, which to get rid of entirely and which to amend is a monumental task requiring careful consideration of the laws, the consequences of change and the implications for other laws. It will take time, careful thought and, you’d have thought, consultation with those affected.
After all, that was what Taking Back Control was all about, wasn’t it? Think again. Possibly the worst aspect of this Bill is how it gives the executive – not Parliament – the power to decide whether any of the laws will be replaced, by what, to make new replacement laws and to change, via secondary legislation, any other laws (on top of the 4,000 laws already mentioned) affecting the powers the executive has already seized using this Bill. In effect, the normal process of MPs considering, debating and voting on new laws or changes to existing ones is to be bypassed completely. The Regulatory Policy Committee gave the Bill a “red flag”, pointing out that the Business Department had not done any proper risk assessment of the Bill’s impact. The former Lord Chief Justice, Igor Judge, gave a short lethal speech in this week’s House of Lords debate eviscerating the Bill.
This is a frivolous, infantile and dangerous approach to legislation. This is not taking back control. It is an authoritarian and undemocratic power grab. The Executive is giving itself “do anything we want” powers. Since there will be little time for any sort of scrutiny and consultation, the likelihood – racing certainty, really – is that this will lead to poor, confusing legislation, unintended consequences and huge uncertainty, cost and chaos for everyone. Only lawyers will benefit. There is no point giving tax cuts if the money then has to be spent on legal advice to know what the hell is going on.
Then we have the Bill of Rights, Raab’s attempt to rewrite the Human Rights Act. This has been presented as a necessary reform. In truth, as set out in the unanimous joint Parliamentary Human Rights Committee report, it is another power grab by the Executive, deliberately weakening the ability of individuals and businesses to hold the government to account. It is worth reading the Committee’s analysis. Polite as it is, it is a withering demolition of the Bill and Raab’s justification for it.
The rule of law, certainty about what the laws are, stability, confidence in an orderly, evidence based system of governance, scrutiny, worthwhile consultation, the ability to hold the authorities to account and enforce rights are the basic structures essential to a country worth investing in.
Why would business invest in Britain with such uncertainty? With such poor governance? With a government – a Conservative (allegedly) government – so intent on destruction of pretty much everything making Britain a reliable secure country? With a government with little idea of what it wants to create, let alone a plan to do so?
The EU Bill will now be the responsibility of the new Business and Trade Department headed by Kemi Badenoch. She has the chance to show whether she intends being a serious politician, one who understands the needs of business, what a strong growing economy needs (and what might actually start the process of recovering the Tory party’s reputation). Or whether she will remain in the party’s Brexit safe space – Rees-Mogg in a dress. As for Raab, time for him and his wretched Bill to go.
It was the Romanian writer, Panait Istrati, who said of Communism in the 1930’s: “All right, I can see the broken eggs. Where’s this omelet of yours?” How odd to find some 90 years later it accurately describing the destructive approach of a Tory government.