Liz Truss's Brexiteer Bonfire of the Vanities sounds more dogmatic and dangerous than the original – Scotsman comment

In 1497, Girolamo Savonarola, a religious extremist who was arguably the de facto ruler of Florence, told his followers to destroy anything they considered to be luxuries.

Is Liz Truss a modern-day Savonarola? (Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Is Liz Truss a modern-day Savonarola? (Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Proclaiming they were living in God’s chosen city, Savonarola ordered it to be cleansed of jewellery, silks, works of art, books, manuscripts and other such decadent fripperies.

On February 7 of that year, hordes of children searched the city high and low, then built a great pyre. As women wearing olive branch crowns danced around it, the “bonfire of the vanities” was lit.

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Fast-forward 525 years, and Conservative leadership candidate Liz Truss is promising another bonfire, albeit a metaphorical one, of EU-derived legislation – or rather, as her campaign team put it, “red tape”.

“As Prime Minister I will unleash the full potential of Britain post-Brexit, and accelerate plans to get EU law off our statute books so we can boost growth and make the most of our new-found freedoms outside of the EU,” Truss declared.

If elected, she would set a "sunset” deadline for every piece of EU-derived business regulation and assess whether it stimulates domestic growth or investment by the end of 2023. Any laws that failed this test would be replaced by “better, home-grown laws” or ditched entirely.

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However, when Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Brexit opportunities minister, announced similar plans last month to scrap all remaining EU laws by 2026, critics questioned whether this would be feasible in such a short amount of time. Changing the law is a complicated business.

Catherine Barnard, of the UK in a Changing Europe think tank, criticised the apparent assumption that “any retained EU law is bad”, saying “of course some of it has worked well”.

And Frances O'Grady, general secretary of the TUC, warned that the "cynical and reckless proposals” threatened not red tape but regulations protecting “holiday pay, equal pay for women and men, safe limits on working hours and parental leave”. “These are all essential – not a ‘nice to have,’” she said. “Let's call this out for what it is: ideological posturing at the expense of ordinary working people.”

Presumably, there were Florentines who regretted the loss of their luxuries in 1497. A pledge to tear up legislation developed over years in less than 18 months sounds equally dogmatic and extreme, and even more dangerous.

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