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Rees-Mogg lambasts critics of EU laws bill after quitting government

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Rees-Mogg lambasts critics of EU laws bill after quitting government

The former business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg launched a scathing attack on opponents of legislation he has tabled to sweep away EU law, telling them they are fighting a Brexit battle all over again.

Rees-Mogg quit his role after Rishi Sunak became prime minister, and less than two hours later returned to the backbenches to see a stand-in, the business minister Dean Russell, opening the second reading of the retained EU law (revocation and reform) bill.

Rees-Mogg told MPs the proposals were aimed at “restoring parliamentary sovereignty” and helping remove rules and regulations that supposedly put business under pressure.

In an extraordinary backbench spat, he accused a fellow Conservative MP of never accepting the result of Brexit, leading Richard Graham to demand the former minister withdraw the “untrue” statement.

Graham had objected to the speed with which the bill proposes to get rid of 2,400 laws. Through a sunset clause, laws that have not been actively saved by a government minister will automatically be switched off on 31 December 2023 under Rees-Mogg’s bill.

The shadow business secretary, Jonathan Reynolds, told the house the bill was “not conducive to good laws”, saying the sunset clause “puts a gun to parliament’s head”.

The Scottish National party spokesperson Brendan O’Hara urged the new prime minister to scrap the bill, describing it as the “unwanted puppy that no one would particularly want in the first place that no one really cares for” given as a present by a man who has “flounced” out the door.

Rees-Mogg said the bill was about Britain taking back control, not about the process of law-making. “We are restoring parliamentary sovereignty,” he said. “This bill is first of all of fundamental constitutional importance because it is removing the supremacy of EU law.”

The bill has been sharply criticised by legal experts, who have said it gives ministers unprecedented and “undemocratic” powers to make or ditch laws without any consultation.

Unions, worried it could trigger a wave of deregulation of workers’ rights, say it is a “countdown to disaster”, while the Green party MP Caroline Lucas told MPs the bill was irresponsible and “ideologically driven”.

Rees-Mogg denied the government wanted to dilute workers’ rights or environmental protections. The government was not about to send “children up chimneys”, he said.

Russell, who was forced to step in for Rees-Mogg after his resignation, said the bill was designed to create “a more agile and innovative regulatory” regime that would “benefit people and businesses across the UK” and would “help us sweep away outdated and obsolete EU legislation, paving the way for future frameworks better suited to the needs of the UK”.

Reynolds denounced the bill, telling the house Labour’s opposition was “not about Brexit” but about the “power to sweep away” laws the government was conferring on ministers. “This bill risks diminishing democratic scrutiny and accountability in key areas of British law,” he said.

The former Brexit select committee chair Hilary Benn asked: “What is the justification for allowing ministers to scrap legislation that currently applies simply by doing nothing? Because of the sunset clause? I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

Labour’s Stella Creasy said she had been told in an answer to a parliamentary question that the list of laws on the government dashboard was “not comprehensive”, fuelling fears legislation could disappear accidentally.

The bill, she said, included the entire body of laws governing aircraft safety, cancer-causing ingredients in cosmetics, compensation for delayed trains and planes, and workers’ rights.

There were also signs of unease on the government benches with the former environment minister Rebecca Pow saying a review of “something like 572 laws relating to the Defra portfolio whether it’s sewage pollution, waste, water, air, pesticides” over just 15 months was a “very short time”. She urged the government to consider extending the sunset clause to 2026.

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