Even after Grenfell the Tories still lust after a “bonfire of red tape” – and will use Brexit to pursue it

June 24, 2017 at 6:02 pm (Civil liberties, Conseravative Party, Europe, Human rights, Jim D, libertarianism, nationalism, populism, rights, Tory scum)

Above: Cameron’s stunt that backfired

“In our commitment to be the first Government to reduce regulation, we have introduced the one in, two out rule for regulation … Under that rule, when the Government introduce a regulation, we will identify two existing ones to be removed. The Department for Communities and Local Government has gone further and removed an even higher proportion of regulations. In that context, Members will understand why we want to exhaust all non-regulatory options before we introduce any new regulations” – Brandon Lewis, the then housing minister (now the immigration minister), in 2014, rejecting calls to force construction companies to fit sprinklers.

Apart from racism and xenophobia, the other driving force behind all wings of the Leave campaign was deregulation – the idea that EU rules and regulations restrict Britain’s freedom. This idea was central to the Leave campaign, and its implications were spelled out plainly by the influential Conservative Home website.

Boris Johnson has spent years writing and telling lies about EU “red tape”, and his old employer, the Daily Telegraph launched a campaign for a “bonfire of red tape” in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote. Post-Grenfell that expression “a bonfire” leaves a nasty taste in the mouth (as Jonanthen Freedland wrote in the Guardian, “well they’ve had their bonfire now”).

But don’t be deceived into thinking that the Tories and their Brexiteer press are having second thoughts post-Grenfell.  That would require a degree of honesty and common decency that is beyond them. The Daily Express, bizarrely, suggested that EU energy-saving regulations were to blame for the use of the cladding that spread the fire (despite the fact that it’s illegal in Germany). But what is known, as George Monbiot pointed out in the Guardian, is that in 2014 the government rejected the idea of obliging construction companies to install sprinkler systems in new buildings – as part of its commitment, it explained, to a “one in, two out rule for regulation”. It is surely just a coincidence that, according to Property Week magazine, the Tories received more than £1m in donations from property and construction companies in the year to the 2015 election.

That “one in, two out rule” was part of the tape-burning zeal of the Tories, summed up most crudely in the 2011 Red Tape Challenge dreamt up by former David Cameron adviser and Brexiteer Steve Hilton. He and the rest of the “new Tory right” had wet dreams about transforming Britain into a Singapore-style paradise of minimally regulated offshore swashbuckling. In 2013, Cameron himself stood in front of an exhortation to “Cut EU red tape”, so he could hardly complain when such arguments were deployed mercilessly against him in the referendum.

The Tories’ plan to use Brexit as the opportunity for a “bonfire of red tape” has not gone away, even if, post Grenfell, they’re a little less brazen and gung-ho.

The proposed Great Repeal Bill, transferring EU law into British law so as to avoid a legal vacuum on day one of Brexit, is the means by which the Tories intend to continue their deregulation programme.

Under so-called “Henry VIII powers”, the government will assume unfettered powers to bypass parliamentary scrutiny and rewrite laws originating in European legislation.

It’s a pretty good bet that they have the Agency Workers Regulations, the Working Time Regulations and uncapped compensation in discrimination claims, in their sights.

A briefing from Another Europe is Possible and Global Justice Now warns of the possible consequences of the Great Repeal Bill, arguing that it “has the potential to grant the government an almost unprecedented level of unaccountable power, using a political process that will chill democratic scrutiny”.

The briefing makes the following recommendations:

1. The government must reveal specific details of the content of its Great Repeal Bill, and it must be a clear and detailed bill (not a ‘skeleton bill’)
2. This must happen very soon, with a clear proposed timetable to ensure proper time necessary for the task with a minimum 6 months for consultation and 6 months for debate
3.  The transfer of EU law into UK law must be transparent, clear and accountable:

  • it must include provisions to ensure that delegated power to the government  is clearly and precisely defined in scope and purpose.
  • Henry VIII powers should be avoided, and when used, subject to the super-affirmative procedure.
  • Sunset clauses should be used to ensure that the delegated legislative powers do not last indefinitely.
  • There must be enhanced processes and resources for screening and scrutinising delegated legislation, including through new or existing parliamentary committees.

4. The government must guarantee, on the face of the bill, clear explicit provisions to prevent the bill affecting human rights, equalities, or environmental laws and standards, and to prohibit the use of delegated legislation to change or undermine such laws and standards.

A simpler approach, however, would be to use May’s election humiliation and the present volatility of British and international politics to campaign to stop Brexit altogether. The received wisdom is that it can’t be done and, indeed, that to attempt to do so would be undemocratic. But the definition of democracy is that people are allowed to change their minds. Why should the narrow verdict of 12 months ago be sacrosanct for all time? If we want to stop the Tories’ plans to deregulate society, the obvious way to do so is to stop Brexit. Of course, that will require that Labour comes off the fence and drops its present stance of studied ambiguity on the subject.

  • JD would like to acknowledge this excellent Guardian article by Steven Poole, which he used extensively in the preparation of this post.

1 Comment

  1. petrel41 said,

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