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Guardian: Tory MPs suggest firms draw up list for bonfire of EU laws after Brexit

Date: 07 12 2016

Tory MPs suggest firms draw up list for bonfire of EU laws after Brexit

Michael Gove and John Whittingdale tell CBI companies should outline regulations they want scrapped when Britain exits bloc

Senior Tory MPs have begun pushing for a list of regulations affecting companies to tear up after Brexit, even though Theresa May has promised to carry over all EU law into British law.

Two former cabinet ministers, John Whittingdale and Michael Gove, suggested to the CBI business group on Wednesday that companies should start drawing up a list of regulations they want to see abolished or reformed.

The two leave campaigners raised the prospect of EU laws being scrapped after the passage of May’s great repeal bill carrying over existing legislation, as they cross-examined witnesses at a session of the Commons committee on exiting the EU.

Gove highlighted a government-commissioned report by Marc Bolland, the former chief executive of Marks & Spencer, which ran through a list of EU employment protections it would like to see withdrawn or changed including pregnant worker proposals, the agency workers directive, the acquired rights directive and the working time directive.

Questioning Carolyn Fairbairn, the director general of the CBI, he asked her: “Would you be able to write back to the committee with a view that your members have on those directives and the current assessment for the applicability or scope for reform of those directives?”

John Whittingdale, the former culture secretary, also asked Fairburn: “To what extent has the CBI examined the opportunities which may exist to reduce the burden on business and are you working on an analysis to present to government for potential repeal or reduction?”

He said he understood the concerns of the Trade Unions Congress (TUC) that it will want to preserve protections for workers deriving from the EU but many pieces of red tape were burdensome that had nothing to do with employment.

John Longworth, the former chair of the British Chamber of Commerce, who campaigned to leave, told the committee that he thought the “opportunities for deregulation are legion”.

“Some of it will be to do with employment rights. Some of it will be to do with the fact that people might not be allowed to do overtime that they wish to do,” he said, citing lorry drivers as an example.

“But the fact of the matter is also that there is a lot of regulation that is nothing to do with employment rights that causes cost to business.”

One example he mentioned was the EU ergonomics directive, which he said made small businesses keep a ledger of checks of the positioning of computer screens and chairs.

He said the UK could “easily” remove 10% of EU regulations without harming workers’ rights, citing examples such as labelling rules requiring smoked salmon packets to be marked “may contain fish” and protections for newts, which are rare on the continent but common in Britain.

However, Fairbairn cautioned MPs against focusing on “silly” anecdotal stories about overregulation, which she said were of less concern to her members than the threat of losing access to European markets.

Frances O’Grady, the general secretary of the TUC, warned the committee that a bonfire of regulations would expose British workers to a “race to the bottom” on employment conditions and health and safety protections, making the UK the “bargain basement capital of Europe”.

December 7th, 2016: The Guardian