The government will face attempts to delay the deletion of up to 4,000 EU laws from UK statute books and stop the scrapping of key workers’ rights, with opposition parties set to table dozens of amendments next week.
The Scottish National party is planning to table about 50 amendments to the retained EU law (revocation and reform) bill, which has been described as “reckless” by legal experts who say it is badly designed and gives unprecedented powers to ministers to personally decide which laws stay and which go.
One of its key amendments, believed to be supported by several Conservative backbenchers, is to extend the date for deletion from the end of 2023 to 2026. This aimed at clause 1, which sets a deadline of December next year for all EU laws to be expunged unless they have been actively saved by a minister.
Labour is also planning a series of amendments. It has tabled proposals to retain key workers’ rights covering health and safety law, annual leave and maternity rights, as well as some environmental laws, rather than seeing them scrapped and replaced with new versions.
SNP MP Brendan O’Hara said: “In its current form, the bill rides roughshod over the devolution settlement, will scrap 2,500 laws overnight without parliamentary scrutiny, puts workers’ rights at risk, and will start a race to the bottom on food and environmental standards.
“As we promised we would do, SNP MPs are opposing this bill every step of the way. We have tabled over 50 amendments so far, and will be tabling more as the bill progresses … to prevent all of the above from happening.”
Devolved governments have called the bill a “power grab”, saying many of the laws being targeted by the government are devolved.
Environmentalists have also express concern. David Bowles, head of public affairs at the RSPCA, said last week that of the 570 environment laws being targeted, 44 cover animal welfare and “probably 31 are devolved”.
The amendments to the bill will be laid on Tuesday when the legislation arrives at committee stage in the Commons.
Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow, who is on the committee, said there were several options it should look at including a “sunrise clause”, whereby all EU law remains on the statute books until it is specifically reviewed, amended or updated.
Legal experts say one of the bill’s fundamental issues is the unprecedented powers it gives ministers and the lack of scrutiny incorporated into the process. The government has admitted it does not even know the definitive number of EU laws on the statute books.
The business minister, Nusrat Ghani, said research on identifying laws was ongoing in a letter to the committee.
She was responding to reports that the National Archives had found another 1,400 laws in addition to 2,400 laws originally identified by the government.
Ghani said the original government dashboard was not a definitive list but represented “the considered view of departments as to where Reul [retained EU law] is concentrated in their policy areas”.
The National Archives was commissioned to conduct a review of its database of legislation including decisions of the European Commission, and other EU laws that “have never been in force in the UK” and “legislation that has already been amended, repealed and replaced”.