The Government needs to crack on with lighting the great bonfire of EU red tape


In the week that the Government announced the Great Repeal Bill, it is manifest that the real and significant business and economic benefits of Brexit are entirely independent of our so called “access” to, or membership of, the Single Market and the Customs Union and do not depend on the negotiation of a free trade arrangement (FTA) with the EU.

An FTA would be the icing on the cake – which we are going to eat – but by no means as important as the cake itself. The massive prize in this “Great British Break Off” includes: the abolition of the Common Agricultural Policy; repatriation of fisheries; repatriation of our net contribution worth over £10 billion; and better allocation of the balance of our gross contribution; the removal of unnecessary external tariffs; free trade arrangements around the world; and the removal of the burden on taxpayers and the drag on productivity of unlimited numbers of cheap labour. All these taken together will produce a massive boost to the economy post-Brexit, in excess of 6 per cent of GDP growth.

The opportunities are legion and not limited to Great Crested Newts, and it is a testament to the size of the avalanche of EU law that has permeated every aspect of our lives that the Great Repeal Bill will present such a substantial administrative task.

Having experienced previous deregulation initiatives, starting from when I sat on Mrs Thatcher’s Deregulation Task Force, there will need to be a real determination on the part of the Government to push through meaningful change.

Regulations, however burdensome, always have their fans, because there are always those who gain wealth or employment from them. This often includes large corporations – multinationals which have compliance departments and can both game the system and put up barriers to competition to their own advantage, but to the detriment of the nation. It also includes Whitehall, where regulation is bread and butter and the Sir Humphreys are adept at delay and obfuscation in their own interests.

If the Government is to succeed in cutting red tape, and we must hope it does, activity built on consensus will not be enough. We will need to focus on the big wins for the economy and jobs which stem both from big pieces of law and the cumulative effect of small laws applying across the board, adding up to big numbers for the economy.

It will require the consideration of a universal sunset clause, as suggested by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), on whose advisory council I sit, so that the imperative is to save the regulation only if it is worth saving. This sets the pace for reform. It will require the setting up of a “star chamber”  made up of like-minded individuals who are determined to reap the rewards for Britain and are not frightened to think the unthinkable. A chamber made up of economists, politicians, academics and business people such as myself, hell-bent on the task and supported by an enthusiastic legislative hit squad from Whitehall.

The Government needs to start this process now, so that on Brexit Day plus one we can begin removing or amending the canon of EU law. Targets might include the ridiculous restrictions that prevent research into life-saving procedures and drugs, including the EU’s anti-progress, anti-science, anti-technology “precautionary principle”; the ludicrously bureaucratic laws like the Ergonomics Directive, which require all businesses to survey and record the positioning of chairs! Overburdensome “Working at Height” requirements which mean that people cannot afford to maintain their houses, not to mention “curved cucumbers”, restrictions on overtime and so much more.

If we apply ourselves to this great bonfire of the EU’s bureaucratic vanities, at last we will be liberated from all this and can celebrate at Lent in two years’ time by eating that quintessential symbol of pleasing renewal, a Simnel Cake, as Britain becomes the best place in the world to do business. But only if the Government gets on with it, starting now.

John Longworth is the former director general of the British Chambers of Commerce

March 30th, 2017: Telegraph