The UK government has invited people to use a new website to identify EU laws they wish to scrap, in a move that would deliver a “crucial boost to productivity” but which critics dismissed as a Brexiter “vanity exercise”.
Jacob Rees-Mogg unveiled the online “dashboard” in parliament on Wednesday, which lists 2,400 pieces of “retained EU law” that have been transferred to the UK statute book. The Brexit opportunities minister then invited members of the public to say which pieces they wanted to repeal.
“This dashboard offers the public a real opportunity: everything on it we can now change,” he told MPs, adding: “Together we will make reforms that will create a crucial boost to productivity and help us bring the benefits of growth to the whole country.”
However, the Labour opposition, leading economists and experts in regulatory policy said that removing small amounts of residual EU law — a long-cherished objective of Brexiters — would not bring sudden economic benefits and could even reduce the attractiveness of the UK to inward investment.
Stephen Doughty, the shadow Europe minister, said the scheme was a Brexiter “vanity project” and a “make-work scheme” for Whitehall officials and government departments charged with delivering quarterly progress reports.
Doughty added that it was not clear how many members of the public would ever delve into the government’s new “digital filing cabinet” of EU law.
The Office for Budget Responsibility, the independent fiscal watchdog, has said that Brexit will ultimately reduce productivity and UK gross domestic product by 4 per cent compared with if the UK had retained EU membership.
Thomas Sampson, an associate professor of economics at the London School of Economics who has modelled the effects of Brexit on UK trade, said there was no economic basis for the assertion that cutting EU regulation would deliver a “crucial boost” to productivity.
“Since 2016 the government has failed to identify any changes to EU regulations that would make a substantial difference to productivity growth. There is no reason to believe that the latest initiative will change that fundamental fact,” he added.
Nicholas Crafts, professor of economic history at Sussex university, said that even the most optimistic estimates made at the time of the 2016 EU referendum by the pro-Brexit think-tank Open Europe found deregulation could increase GDP by 0.7-1.3 per cent — far short of the 4 per cent hit from leaving the EU single market.
“That was the most optimistic estimate, but you would have offset that against the costs associated with divergence which can themselves deter investment,” he said.
Crafts, whose own work found that EU membership had provided a significant boost to productivity through enhanced competition, added that ironically the single biggest reform that would boost productivity would actually come from reforms to domestic land use, which is unrelated to the EU.
Regulatory experts also warned that Rees-Mogg’s exercise risked tying up large amounts of civil service time on a scheme that would not lead to strategic policymaking.
Joël Reland, of the UK in a Changing Europe think-tank which has been tracking UK divergence from EU laws, said the scheme would also create “major uncertainty” for business that often sought to remain in regulatory alignment with the EU to ease access to the EU single market.
“Rees-Mogg says he wants the UK to be ‘the most sensibly regulated economy in the world’ but starting a countdown to reform up to 2,400 pieces of EU law is the exact opposite of that,” he added.