06 June 2023

‘I am not an arsonist’: Badenoch defends EU law ‘bonfire’ climbdown

06 June 2023

Kemi Badenoch said that she was “not an arsonist” as she clashed with Tory MPs over the decision to scale back post-Brexit plans to scrap EU laws.

The Business and Trade Secretary was grilled by MPs during an appearance at the European Scrutiny Committee, amid Brexiteer anger about changes to plans for a “bonfire” of retained EU laws.

The Government had originally promised a “sunset” clause on all laws carried over from the trade bloc by the end of 2023 under its Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill.

But the blanket sunset clause was ditched earlier this year and replaced with a narrowed target of 600 such laws to be revoked by the end of the year, well short of the more than 4,000 previously pledged.

What we want to do is get rid of laws we don't need and there is a process for that. It is not the bonfire of regulations. We are not arsonists. I am certainly not an arsonist. I am a Conservative

Ms Badenoch defended the decision and insisted that Government policy had not fundamentally changed, during a fiery back-and-forth with Brexiteer David Jones.

“What we want to do is get rid of laws we don’t need and there is a process for that. It is not the bonfire of regulations. We are not arsonists. I am certainly not an arsonist. I am a Conservative. I don’t think a bonfire of regulations is what we wanted. What we wanted was the reform and removal of things we did not need,” she told the Clwyd West MP.

“Until I did this, no one knew what was happening. No one knew what was being revoked or reformed. And we could end up in a situation where we’re telling ourselves there is a big bonfire of regulations, and no one would have known what would happen until after the sunset.”

Mr Jones said that the Commons had in fact voted for a “bonfire” of regulations and said that modifying the Bill in the House of Lords could be seen as “disrespectful” to MPs.

“What I am finding difficult to understand is that when a Bill passes through the House of Commons unamended and therefore clearly has the complete approbation of the House of Commons, you then change your approach completely,” he told his party colleague.

“You don’t tell the Commons you are changing your approach, you don’t have the courtesy to come before this committee, so this committee can scrutinise the changes you are proposing, then you come back to the Commons, it having gone through the Lords, presenting the Commons effectively with a fait accompli.

“Don’t you think that is disrespectful of the House of Commons?”

But Ms Badenoch rejected his claims and said the Government was still delivering on the intention behind the Bill.

She said that there would have been little point coming before the committee when she was new in post, before adding: “Something you are not saying, we had private meetings David, we had private meetings where we discussed this extensively, because I knew you had concerns.

“And it is public knowledge we had private meetings, because when I thought I was having private and confidential meetings I was reading the contents in the Daily Telegraph.”

The Cabinet minister was also asked whether the changes to the Bill were part of a deal with the European Union to secure the Windsor Framework, the agreement agreed between Brussels and London in a bid to resolve unionist concerns about the impact of the Brexit deal on Northern Ireland.

Ms Badenoch told South Dorset MP Richard Drax that the framework had “nothing to do with it”, warning her fellow MPs to stop floating suggestions that the UK still had not fully left the EU.

“We are at risk of talking down the significant thing we have achieved by making the perfect the enemy of the good,” she said.

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