Most UK businesses have no interest in or understanding of the government’s flagship “Brexit freedoms” plan to scrap EU regulations, according to a survey of bosses.
The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said nearly three-quarters of business executives were unaware of the government’s plans or did not know the details. Across all business sectors, about half of the survey of nearly 1,000 companies said deregulation was a low priority or no priority at all.
William Bain, head of trade policy at the BCC, which represents thousands of companies of all sizes across the country, said: “Companies have not asked for this bill, and as our research shows, they are not clamoring for a bonfire of regulation. because of it.
“They don’t want any deviation from EU regulations that would make it harder, more expensive or impossible to export their goods and services.”
Rishi Sunak’s government is under increasing pressure from business leaders, unions and political critics to repeal the EU’s Preserve Law, dubbed the Brexit freedom law.
The plan to remove a wide range of EU laws from the British legal code was a major policy reform introduced under the short-lived premiership of Liz Truss, promoted by her business secretary, Jacob Rees-Mogg.
The BCC said only 4% of companies fully understood the Brexit freedoms law and its possible impact on them. When asked which regulations they would keep, change or completely scrap, more than half (58%) said they had no preference.
The survey, first reported by the New Statesman, also asked companies whether deregulation was a priority for them in the areas of employment, health and safety, environment, planning and product safety regulations.
The results contrast sharply with comments from senior government officials who suggest widespread regulatory changes could help UK businesses and restart the UK economy.
The Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, argued last week that “Brexit freedoms” could help pave the way for growth in key sectors. He compared the plans to Nigel Lawson’s ‘big bang’ city reforms in 1986, telling MPs on the Treasury Committee: ‘We have a huge Brexit opportunity to set our own rules.
“You can build long-term plans for growth sectors such as life sciences, technology and green industries, which will attract people to the UK, as we use our Brexit freedoms to make things happen with forward-looking regulatory structures that you can’t in other countries.”
Business groups have previously experienced tensions between their members’ views and leadership on Brexit. Ahead of the 2016 referendum, the BCC’s then director-general, John Longworth, was suspended after suggesting that Britain would be better off outside the EU, despite two-thirds of members favoring staying. Meanwhile, Lord Bamford, the chairman of JCB, withdrew his company’s membership of the CBI over the lobby group’s anti-Brexit stance.
The BCC said there was little appetite among businesses for UK rules to deviate significantly from EU regulations, warning that too many differences would increase business costs at a time when businesses were already grappling with high inflation and other trade barriers with the EU.
The UK copied EU laws to facilitate its formal exit from the EU on January 31, 2020. According to the bill, several thousand EU laws would automatically expire by the end of 2023 unless they had already been revised, amended, renewed or deleted.
The BCC urged ministers to extend the deadline for the bill to the end of 2026 to allow more time for consultations with businesses.
William Bain said: “The most important thing is that businesses and government need to focus on the pressing issues we are facing right now. With a tough 12 months ahead, we cannot afford to take away resources that companies need to stay afloat in the coming year.”