According to a survey of bosses, most UK businesses have no interest in or understanding of the government’s flagship ‘Brexit Freedoms’ plan to scrap EU regulations.
The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said almost three quarters of business leaders were unaware of the government’s plans or did not know the details. Across all industries, about half of respondents in the survey of nearly 1,000 companies said deregulation was either a low priority or not a priority at all.
William Bain, head of trade policy at the BCC, which represents thousands of businesses of all sizes across the country, said: “Businesses have not asked for this bill, and as our survey points out, they are not calling for a regulatory bonfire for the sake of it.
“They don’t want to see a divergence from EU regulations that makes it harder, more expensive or impossible to export their goods and services.”
Rishi Sunak’s government is coming under increasing pressure from business leaders, unions and political critics to withdraw the EU-backed bill, commonly known as the Brexit Freedoms Bill.
The plan to purge a wide range of EU laws from the UK lawbook was a key policy reform introduced under the short-lived tenure of Liz Truss, promoted by her business secretary, Jacob Rees-Mogg.
The BCC said only 4% of businesses fully understood the Brexit Freedoms Bill and its potential impact on them. When asked which regulations they would retain, change or remove altogether, more than half (58%) said they had no preference.
In the survey, first reported by the New Statesman, companies were also asked if 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 suggesting widespread regulatory changes could help UK businesses and revive the UK economy.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt argued last week that “Brexit freedoms” could help pave the way for growth in key sectors. Comparing the plans to Nigel Lawson’s ‘big bang’ city reforms of 1986, he told Treasury Committee MPs: “We have a huge Brexit opportunity to set our own regulations.
“You can make long-term plans for growing industries like life sciences, technology and green industries, which attract people to come to the UK, as we use our Brexit freedoms to allow things to happen with forward-looking regulatory structures that you can’t do in other countries.
Business groups have already experienced tensions between their members’ views and leaders on Brexit. Ahead of the 2016 referendum, BCC chief executive John Longworth was suspended after he suggested Britain would be better off outside the EU despite two-thirds of members backing it. Meanwhile, Lord Bamford, the chairman of JCB, has withdrawn his company’s CBI membership due to the lobby group’s anti-Brexit stance.
The BCC said businesses did not want UK rules to deviate significantly from EU regulations, warning that too many differences would increase business costs at a time when businesses were already struggling with runaway inflation and other barriers to trade with the EU.
The UK copied EU laws to facilitate official EU exit on January 31, 2020. Under the bill, several thousand EU laws would automatically expire at the end of 2023, at unless they have already been revised, modified, renewed or deleted.
The BCC has urged ministers to extend the deadline for the bill to the end of 2026 to allow more time for business consultation.
William Bain said: “Most importantly, business and government need to focus on the pressing issues facing us right now. With 12 challenging months ahead, we cannot afford to take away the resources businesses need to stay afloat in the year ahead.