On 31 January the UK Government published a press release and accompanying policy paper titled "The Benefits of Brexit: How the UK is taking advantage of leaving the EU". The paper is something of a wide-ranging better government manifesto. The first section sets out some of the UK Government’s achievements resulting from its new-found post-Brexit freedoms; the second section outlines proposals for better regulation reform, and the third section sets the UK vision statements for the future of policy areas post-Brexit.
Achievements as a result of Brexit are listed under several headings:
- Taking back control, notably in the form of ending free movement and regaining legislative freedom;
- Managing our own money and setting our own taxes;
- Backing our businesses;
- Support for people and families;
- Protecting our environment;
- Enhancing animal welfare standards; and
- A Global Britain including new trade deals.
Taking back control in the form of ending free movement and regaining legislative freedom were of course part and parcel of the UK Government’s Brexit vision. Most of the post-Brexit achievements listed here are probably best seen as policy choices made on the back of regaining this legislative freedom. On the money side, not having to contribute to the EU budget is said to enable the UK to spend more on other things, including the UK’s own response to Covid, and more for the UK’s National Health Service. But the UK’s new independent approach to subsidies may encounter difficulties with the EU in view of the State Aid rules agreed in the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA).
The ‘Backing our Business’ section for the most part catalogues initiatives which have already been announced and which include developing the UK competition regime, reforming data regulation and reforming financial services regulation. Support for people and families is a comparatively slim section, leading with raising the contactless bank card limit to £100 and includes "reinstated duty-free shopping for all overseas destinations including the EU". Under 'Protecting our environment', the promise is to "go further and faster than the EU to tackle climate change and meet our ambitious net zero commitments." Enhancing animal welfare standards post-Brexit by building animal welfare into our independent trade policy does seem genuinely ground-breaking. The Global Britain heading is a catalogue of current actions. Taken together this is quite an impressive list; most of the items are familiar (conclusion of trade deals with 70+ countries; WTO; ASEAN; AUKUS; CPTPP etc). Reaffirmation of the UK’s commitment to work together with the United States to realise their collective vision for a more peaceful and prosperous future is perhaps the most radical departure from the previous EU orientation.
Part two, "The Best Regulated Economy in the World", rests on two pillars: a renewed regulatory framework, and review of retained EU law. Better regulation is to be based on five new principles:
- A sovereign approach, i.e. diverging from the EU for competitive reasons;
- Leading from the front, focused on the future;
- Proportionality i.e. regulation only where absolutely necessary and cutting down on retained EU red tape;
- Recognising what works; and a stronger emphasis on the use of evaluation, to ensure that regulation remains relevant and proportionate; and
- Setting high standards at home and globally.
Clearly the devil will be in the detail in all this. However, there will be much debate around when and whether it is appropriate to deviate from EU rules especially if access to EU markets is dependent on following EU rules. There is also likely to be something of a tension between proportionality if this means minimal regulation on one hand, and maintaining high standards at home and internationally on the other.
Regarding retained EU law (which was kept or brought onto the UK statute book to ensure legal continuity following Brexit), the press release and accompanying policy paper announce the government's intention to bring forward a "Brexit Freedoms Bill" to ensure that retained EU law can be more easily amended or repealed. The Bill "is also expected to end the special status that EU law still enjoys" in UK law, and to make any further changes recommended by the government's retained EU law status review. In parallel the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee has launched an inquiry, "Retained EU Law: Where next?" to examine the future of retained EU law in the context of the UK government's reviews into the substance and status of retained EU law. At present a lot of retained EU law can for the most part only be amended by Act of Parliament (or primary legislation). The UK Government paper hints quite strongly that the Bill should make provision for amendment of at least certain categories of retained EU law ("a targeted power") by statutory instrument (or secondary legislation), which is not subject to the same levels of parliamentary scrutiny and control as primary legislation. We will review the Bill once it is available and post a blog on its proposals.