A photo of the Palace of Westminster

The Public Order Bill is an attack on democracy on the streets; the EU Retention Bill is an attack on democracy within Parliament. Rather than ‘taking back control’ the government is seeking to take away Parliament’s sovereign power of voting for or against laws, and hands that power over to a chaotic executive of right wing ministers and their civil servants.

They are expecting MPs and peers to hand ministers the power to delete nearly 4,000 rules and regulations that parliament has previously agreed. If ministers don’t like a regulation, or their civil servants don’t get round to reviewing it, then it will be gone by the end of next year. It is a recipe for legal chaos, as businesses, local authorities and governmental bodies have no time to adapt and no idea what rules they are expected to adapt to.

These regulations cover everything from environmental protections to the quality standards required to drive business exports to the continent. They cover workers’ rights and the protection of our health. They are crucial to how almost any business functions, yet these rules may, or may not, disappear, or change.

The deletion of laws won’t even require the ministers’ “conscious assent”. The sunset clause of a year means that if the minister forgets or misses a piece of law, it is just repealed. These regulations have all been signed off by previous governments and many of them have been in place for decades. In fact, they are such an integrated set of rules that civil servants have had trouble identifying them all. The government estimates of the workload involved, have drifted upwards as hundreds of regulations have been identified as being subject to the 31 December 2023 guillotine.

The Commons Library found that 4,000 out of 35,000 laws on the UK statute book had some reference to EU law. 72 of these did go through with an objection from a UK Government. So why not focus on these 72? Well, nine were directives that are fairly flexible and 34 were funding-related (often one-offs). There might be a couple of dozen regulations that are worth revisiting, but a sensible government would ask whether these are worth spending time on. Instead, we have an ideologically driven set of ministers who don’t care about workers, ecology, or businesses exporting to the EU.

As trade union lawyers have pointed out, they have no idea if basic rights could be lost as a result of this legislation because the government doesn’t know either. The working time regulations contain the provision for the eight bank holidays, but it is impossible to tell from the government tableau of legislation effected whether these rules are on the list or not. Will workers lose their right to the 20 days of minimum annual leave entitlement? Will women, who tend to be part-time workers, have the protections against dismissal… and parity of treatment? And will fixed-term workers, who also tend to be female, get to keep their protections? Will women who want to go back to the workplace and have the same employment & protection get that protection? You might think that is conjecture, but the government is rejecting any guarantees in the legislation that would exclude these areas from Ministerial revision or deletion.

The government’s main defence is “trust us: we’re the government”. They allow some ministers to extend the sunset clause if they wish. So, all the discretion stays in the hands of one person. This is their concession to pragmatic conservatism. Really? I mean, are they serious?

This Bill is bad for the environment and for consumer protection, but above all it is bad for British democracy.

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Image credit: Alex Drop – Creative Commons