Monday, 19 June 2017

Brexit: and a bonfire of EU red tape

Immediately after the referendum, the Daily Mail was looking forward to a bonfire of EU red tape:

Bonfire of the EU laws: From crooked cucumbers to powerful vacuum cleaners, the barmy Brussels regulations we can now get rid of

Country will leave behind a network of laws and regulations set by the EU

24 June 2016

As the country reflects in the wake of the EU referendum, Leave voters are celebrating changing the course of history and breaking free from the shackles of the European Union - and its laws and regulations.

Despite the fact Britain has voted in favour of leaving the EU, this is still the start of a long process before the country officially untangles from the network of institutions in Brussels.

1. Ban on curvy bananas and crooked cucumbers 
The first - and one which reared its head as the Brexit and Remain camps drew up their battles lines - was the banana regulation. An example often cited as 'legislative heavy-handedness' was the EU ban on 'bendy bananas' and crooked cucumbers. A 1994 EU regulation specified that bananas must be 'free from abnormal curvature.

Brussels regulations UK leaves behind after EU referendum result | Daily Mail Online

Back in December last year Micheal Gove was gunning for a stripping away of EU red tape:

Tory MPs suggest firms draw up list for bonfire of EU laws after Brexit

7 December 2016

Michael Gove and John Whittingdale tell CBI companies should outline regulations they want scrapped when Britain exits bloc

Senior Tory MPs have begun pushing for a list of regulations affecting companies to tear up after Brexit, even though Theresa May has promised to carry over all EU law into British law.

Tory MPs suggest firms draw up list for bonfire of EU laws after Brexit | Politics | The Guardian

And in January the then-Environment minister was doing the same:

Andrea Leadsom promises Brexit bonfire of regulation for farmers

4 January 2017

Andrea Leadsom said: ‘By cutting the red tape that comes out of Brussels, we will free our farmers to grow more, sell more and export more great British food.’

Slashing regulations for farmers will be the government’s key priority for the agriculture sector as Britain leaves the European Union, the environment secretary, Andrea Leadsom, has promised.

Andrea Leadsom promises Brexit bonfire of regulation for farmers | Politics | The Guardian

And in March, the Telegraph started a campaign:

Cut the EU red tape choking Britain after Brexit to set the country free from the shackles of Brussels

28 MARCH 2017 

Britain must sweep aside thousands of needless EU regulations after Brexit to free the country from the shackles of Brussels, a coalition of senior MPs and business leaders have demanded.

On Wednesday, Theresa May will start the formal process of leaving the EU when she invokes Article 50, giving her a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to rejuvenate the UK economy.

Today, the Telegraph calls on the Conservative Party to promise a bonfire of EU red tape in its 2020 manifesto to put Britain on a radically different course.

Cut the EU red tape choking Britain after Brexit to set the country free from the shackles of Brussels - Telegraph
Brexit is a golden chance to throw some EU regulations on a bonfire - Telegraph

The Financial Times was not impressed:

Ministers and business line up against ‘bonfire’ of EU rule

May says cutting regulation would make trade deal more difficult

MARCH 30, 2017 

David Davis, the UK’s Brexit secretary, on Thursday unveiled his government’s Great Repeal Bill, a legislative behemoth that has one remarkable feature: it does not repeal a single piece of EU legislation.

Eurosceptics from his own Conservative party, backed by a vociferous campaign in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, insist that the “bonfire of EU regulations” is coming, targeting everything from EU employment laws, to clinical trials for new drugs and wildlife habitat rules.

But this cull of EU rules — which one-time Tory leadership contender Michael Gove has claimed cost the British economy £600m a week — is running into opposition, not only from the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, but from Theresa May, the prime minister, Philip Hammond, her chancellor, and big business.

Mr Barnier has warned that Britain will not be able to strike a favourable trade deal with the EU unless it promises there will be no “regulatory dumping” in the form of cuts to financial regulation, for instance, or to protection for workers or the environment.

Mrs May indicated in her Article 50 letter on Wednesday that she agreed in principle. “We should . . . prioritise how we manage the evolution of our regulatory frameworks to maintain a fair and open trading environment, and how we resolve disputes,” she said.

Mr Hammond has expressed his preference for “a recognisably European-style economy with European-style taxation systems and European-style regulation systems”.

Britain’s biggest companies have also warned against slashing the estimated 19,000 EU rules that the repeal bill will import into UK law when Brexit happens. The CBI business lobby group said in a report last year that while many sectors, including chemicals, plastics, food and drink, and financial services, disliked some EU rules, there was no desire to get rid of them. “The view emerging in every sector is that these costs are largely sunk for current regulation and seamless access to EU markets is a price worth paying for,” the report said.

The City of London has been even more insistent on the need to maintain an “equivalent” regulatory regime, as a basis for retaining market access. In the immediate term, “regulatory divergence” between Britain and the EU is not on the cards.

Mr Davis said the repeal bill — which repeals only the 1972 European Communities Act that gives direct effect to EU law in Britain — was “not a vehicle for policy changes”.

Ministers and business line up against ‘bonfire’ of EU rules - Financial Times

And this month, the City was saying pretty much the same again:

Lord Mayor of London to join growing chorus urging May to strike Brexit deal

June 15 2017

The Lord Mayor of the City of London will add his voice to a growing chorus of business leaders urging Theresa May to strike a Brexit deal with the EU before negotiations draw to a close.

In a speech prepared for the Bankers and Merchants Dinner at Mansion House on Thursday evening, Andrew Parmley will stress that a Brexit deal which ensures access to the EU single market is "vital" for City businesses.

"The City Corporation remains firm that access to the single market is a priority. For the firms I represent, and the millions they support, a deal is vital. We seek a bespoke agreement with the EU for reciprocal market access, based on the principle of mutual-recognition of our regulatory regimes.

"A bonfire of regulation would have no benefit."

Lord Mayor of London to join growing chorus urging May to strike Brexit deal - BelfastTelegraph.co.uk

The FT has been extremely political in its comment of late:

Grenfell Tower blaze shows we tinker with rules at our peril

A long and successful political campaign has denigrated the regulation in place

JUNE 15, 2017

When Grenfell Tower, the 24-storey block in west London engulfed by fire on Wednesday, was designed in the 1960s, the council would have been given an incentive to build it as a high rise. Government subsidies encouraged the building of towers (of six storeys or more) for social housing. The tower was seen as the future, the antithesis of the earthbound slums. It was the visual symbol of the welfare state, evidence that something was being done and that society was being remade.

Today’s London towers are symbols of the exact opposite. The high rise has become a cipher for property as investment asset and the polarised city.

From its beginnings in Chicago at the end of the 19th century, the high rise has proved remarkably resilient. But, as the terrible tragedy at Grenfell Tower showed, it also carries within it the germ of disaster. As the French thinker Paul Virilio suggested, the invention of the train was also the invention of the train crash. The flames shooting up the façade of Grenfell Tower present an unforgettable image of the contemporary urban nightmare.

Yet in London these disasters seem to affect only social housing towers: the collapse of Ronan Point in 1968, the fires at Lakanal House in 2009, Shepherds Court last year and Grenfell House this week. Clearly cost has something to do with it, but the irony is that it seems this latest tragedy was exacerbated by spending. The block had just undergone an £8.7m refit — but to what end? The cladding that is now under such scrutiny was fitted partly to improve insulation but also to encase the concrete façade in a smooth simulacrum of the commercial private towers rising across the city. The dangers of flammable cladding materials and the cavities behind them in which fire can spread unseen have been known for years. These cheap and nasty, and perhaps even lethal, panels represent an attempt to screen the original nature of the architecture of modernist social housing.

Fashion is shifting. The concrete towers once derided as slums in the sky have been rediscovered. Trellick Tower, the concrete high rise completed by architect Erno Goldfinger two years before nearby Grenfell Tower, is now a highly desirable address. The residents of the same architect’s Balfron Tower in east London have been turfed out while their old flats are turned into luxury housing. The uncompromising concrete aesthetic that Kensington and Chelsea borough council was attempting to conceal is now so fashionable it has been commodified as urban authenticity. What they were trying to hide was the image of the high-rise as “sink estate”.

The legacy of well intentioned architectural meddling easily elides into social cleansing — estates in deprived but well-located neighbourhoods somehow fail to find alternative accommodation for the tenants they have “decanted”. But in parallel, there has also been a long and successful political campaign to denigrate regulation.

The building regulations in place when Grenfell Tower was designed demanded generous space standards (which were abandoned by Margaret Thatcher’s government in 1980) and made rigorously codified fire provision for escape and compartmentation. These had been eroded in the rebuilding of Grenfell Tower as more flats were squeezed in to increase accommodation. 
Regulation has been denounced as “red tape” and the Conservatives have consistently voted against legislation to regulate landlords’ obligations better. Building regulations for fire prevention and safety have not been reviewed for more than a decade, even though most regulations are re-examined every couple of years to keep pace with changing technology and materials.

The right has gleefully pointed to Brexit as an opportunity for a “bonfire” of red tape. Sparks from a bonfire, however, can sometimes catch.

Grenfell Tower blaze shows we tinker with rules at our peril - Financial Times

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