Jacob Rees-Mogg has insisted unshackling Britain from EU laws is “still an important Brexit task”. His comments come after reports Rishi Sunak could deprioritise the move as the UK grapples with the cost of living crisis and a black hole in the public finances.
The new PM is said to be considering whether to press ahead with a 2023 sunset clause for the 2,400 pieces of Brussels legislation that remain on the UK statute book years after quitting the bloc.
Mr Sunak, who entered No 10 on Tuesday, has been warned the exercise could tie up hundreds of civil servants, the Financial Times reported.
But taking to Twitter today, Mr Rees-Mogg said: “Deleting EU laws is still an important Brexit task.”
Mr Rees-Mogg, who quit as Business Secretary ahead of Mr Sunak unveiling his Cabinet, was involved in work on the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill during his time in Government.
The Bill, which passed its latest Commons hurdle this week, paves the way for a bonfire of EU law retained after Brexit.
However Mr Sunak and new Business Secretary Grant Shapps are yet to decide whether to stick to the 2023 deadline. Under the Bill, the date could be pushed back to 2026 if necessary.
Downing Street said: “As it stands, it’s 2023. It’s too early to say.”
During the Tory leadership race over the summer, Mr Sunak pledged to “review or repeal” the more than 2,000 pieces of EU law still on the UK statute book. However, that target will reportedly not be met.
Mr Sunak has also ditched his pledge during the leadership contest for a new “Brexit delivery unit” and he has not named a dedicated Brexit Opportunities Minister – a role previously held by Mr Rees-Mogg.
It comes after the second reading of the Bill to make it easier for the Government to amend, repeal and replace the EU law retained post-Brexit passed its second reading this week by 280 to 225.
It paves the way for nearly all remaining retained EU law to be either repealed or absorbed into UK domestic law by December 31 2023, although question marks now hang over this date.
Opening the debate on Tuesday, business minister Dean Russell said the Bill is the “culmination of the Government’s work to untangle the UK from nearly 50 years of EU membership”.
He added: “Through this Bill we will create a more agile and innovative regulatory environment that would not have been possible should we had been a member of the EU still. This will benefit people and businesses across the UK.”
Mr Rees-Mogg hailed the Bill as “removing the supremacy of EU law”.
And he accused those opposed to a bonfire of retained EU laws of “fighting the Brexit battle over again”, sparking a row with a Remainer Tory MP just hours after returning to the backbenches.
Mr Rees-Mogg said: “The issue of supremacy is of constitutional importance and I’d say anybody who opposes the removal of the supremacy of EU law is fighting the Brexit battle over again.
“It’s about saying ‘we didn’t really leave after all, we’d like to pretend we’re still there and isn’t it nice to allow this alien law to continue to tell us what we ought to do’.”
Tory MP Richard Graham, intervening, said: “For some of us the issue is not really about the constitutional argument about which law should be sovereign – we may well happily accept that – but the point is more about the practical issue of how do you convert literally hundreds of laws in the department of environment, food and so on into British law within the timescale imagined.
“Does he understand the severe doubts that many people have about the practicality of what is on offer?”
Mr Rees-Mogg replied: “I’m afraid (Mr Graham) has never liked the decision to leave the European Union and everything he says must be taken in that context.”