Ministers engage in phoney EU law war amid claims of UK-led 'race to the bottom'

UK and Scottish Government ministers have engaged in a phoney war over whether certain aspects of EU law should be retained after Brexit as the SNP accused the Conservatives of engaging in a “race to the bottom” on standards.

Angus Robertson, the Scottish Government’s constitution secretary, complained during a ministerial statement to MSPs that no details of the coming Brexit Freedoms Bill had been shared with him or officials despite requests.

His statement followed an equally thin announcement in Westminster by Jacob Rees-Mogg, who unveiled a new ‘dashboard’ listing all existing EU law and which would allow the public to “count down” the number of remaining laws as they are reformed or repealed in London.

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The Brexit Freedoms Bill was announced earlier this year by Boris Johnson and aims to make it easier to amend or remove retained EU law, though the legislation itself is yet to be introduced to the House of Commons and no specifics have been made public.

It has been reported the Bill may also see some EU laws ‘sunset’ and automatically cease to have any force after a set period of time.

Mr Robertson told Holyrood the Bill risked impacting devolved areas such as product standards, consumer protection, and genetically modified food and was in direct opposition to the views of the majority of Holyrood.

He also complained Mr Rees-Mogg, Brexit opportunities minister, could not be bothered to walk 200m to the Scottish Government offices in Edinburgh to discuss the Bill when they met in early May.

Jacob Rees-Mogg and Angus RobertsonJacob Rees-Mogg and Angus Robertson
Jacob Rees-Mogg and Angus Robertson

The constitution secretary told MSPs: “Whilst the UK Government has declined to share details of the Brexit Freedoms Bill with us, we should be under no illusion about the risk it presents to Scotland.

“The main purpose of the Bill appears to be to give the UK Government the freedom to abandon legislation that has protected Scottish interests for almost 50 years.

“It will create uncertainty for business and threatens to fire the starting pistol in a race to the bottom on standards – on food, the environment, animal and plant health, and workers’ rights.

“It is unacceptable that the UK Government seems ready to unveil sweeping measures that could have profound consequences for Scotland with such little discussion or respect for the Scottish Parliament, Government – or the people of Scotland.”

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Prior to the statement, Mr Rees-Mogg told MPs in London the Government would publish data every three months to show how many changes had been made to the 2,400 pieces of EU legislation in place following the UK’s departure.

He said the dashboard would ensure the public could “join us on this journey to amend, repeal or replace” retained EU law in a bid to cut at least £1 billion of business costs from “EU red tape”.

Mr Rees-Mogg, making a statement to the Commons on the eve of the sixth anniversary of the EU referendum, told MPs: “This dashboard I hope is an opportunity to tackle hundreds of matters which might seem marginal on their own, but each of these measures in the margin will combine to usher in a revolution.

“Not a French-style revolution with blood running in the streets and the terror of the guillotine, but a British-style revolution whereby marginal improvements moving inch-by-inch, so that soon we’ve covered the feet and the feet become yards and the yards become chains and then furlongs and miles until the journey is complete."

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