National Security & Defense

‘The Greatest Deregulatory Endeavor’

A protester waves an EU flag outside Parliament in London. (Reuters photo: Hannah McKay)
The U.K. should take advantage of Brexit by repealing lots of unneeded EU regulations.

British prime minister Theresa May triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty on Wednesday, beginning the two-year process in which the U.K. must negotiate an agreement for its withdrawal from the European Union. During this process, the U.K. government must decide the most efficient way to keep, repeal, or amend the thousands of EU regulations on the books.

One day after May triggered Article 50, the U.K. announced its intent to repeal the European Communities Act of 1972, which grants supremacy to EU law over U.K. law, and introduce a Great Repeal Bill that will incorporate EU law into U.K. law. Having imported the whole kit and caboodle, the British Parliament will begin the arduous task of scrapping any statutes it considers superfluous.

Iain Murray, co-author of “Cutting the Gordian Knot” and the vice president for strategy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), argues that the “Great Repeal Bill will begin what may prove to be the greatest deregulatory endeavor undertaken by any modern government.” But that deregulatory effort will be successful only if Parliament chooses to cut these overbearing regulations; otherwise, these same laws will simply be enforced by legislators in Westminster rather than EU bureaucrats in Brussels.

Here, the “how?” is as important as the “what?” Asking Parliament to vote to keep, repeal, or amend each law separately would be impractical and could take years. In practice, such an approach would likely lead to few laws’ being repealed. In consequence, Murray and his colleague Rory Broomfield argue that the British government should establish a Royal Commission on Regulatory Reduction and assign it the daunting job of deregulation. The committee would be chaired by a current or former justice of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, and members would represent both the governing and opposition parties.

The commission “would essentially depoliticize the process of regulatory reduction,” Murray tells National Review. Each year, it would provide regulatory revisions to be voted on by Parliament — and, to keep the process efficient, members of Parliament would be prohibited from amending the commission’s proposal.

If such a commission is formed — and if, as Murray hopes, it ends up successfully repealing a quarter of the regulations imported from the EU — the U.K. economy would save between £33 billion ($43 billion) and £140 billion ($182 billion) annually.

There is a lot of work to do before Britain reaches that point. The U.K. “won’t be able to cut the rules until they are formally out of the EU,” Murray says. Thus, as the U.K. moves toward a deal that restores sovereignty to the British people, U.K. leaders such as Theresa May must decide sooner rather than later how they expect Brexit will impact the economy, the environment, trade negotiations, and more.

It is possible that each area of regulation will require a different approach. In their report, Murray and Broomfield argue that some environmental rules — for example, the directive on Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH), “the most wide-ranging and restrictive in the world on chemical innovation and use” — ought to be repealed outright. Among other things, REACH places the burden of proof on chemical companies, not the government, to show that the products being used are safe — including products that have been in use for many years with no harmful effects.

On trade, by contrast, the U.K. should seek to engage in bilateral trade agreements or, if possible, form a bespoke global free-trade association with the world’s freest economies. “These [free] economies are by nature committed to free enterprise and free exchange of goods and services,” Murray and Broomfield said. The proposed free-trade association would require countries to have free-trade policies, protected property rights, and minimal business regulation. “Another option,” they explained, “would be for the U.K. simply to drop all tariff barriers and trade freely with the rest of the world.”

The U.K.’s leaders must consider a wide variety of issues in the coming months, and, as the Brexit debate intensifies, “there is going to have to be increased vigilance by Leave supporters,” Murray says. Leave may have won by a narrow majority on the day of the Brexit vote, but Remain supporters do not plan to remain silent. The U.K. is certainly leaving the EU, but if Remain supporters have it their way, there will be an “EU bureaucracy in Westminster instead of in Brussels.”

— Austin Yack is a William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow in Political Journalism.

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Austin YackAustin Yack is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute and a University of California, Santa Barbara alumnus.

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