Last week, the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill (REUL) completed its committee stage in the House of Lords. This Bill takes thousands of laws that derive from Europe and applies a ‘sunset clause’ – meaning whole swathes of legislation will be struck from the statute book altogether at the end of this year, unless specifically saved by a government minister.

The laws under threat are numerous, and touch every part of our society. They include the Working Time Directive which protects employees from being forced to work excessive hours, as well as rules that guarantee our rights to maternity and holiday pay. And our environment is under threat too. The Clean Water Directive, widely seen as having driven vast improvements in water quality around our shores, could be lost, alongside protections for wildlife enshrined in the Habitats Directive.

As the Bill moves into Report stage (date to be confirmed), where Peers will have a further opportunity to closely examine the bill and make changes, the Women’s Institute and Unchecked UK, alongside many others, continue to raise the alarm about the threat this Bill represents to the protections that are the cornerstone of our society.

Businesses do not support drive to deregulate

Now, a new poll – carried out by YouGov on behalf of our two organisations, as well as the RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents – finds that UK businesses have their own concerns about the Bill.

Despite the view – often promoted by deregulatory advocates – that businesses are fundamentally opposed to the very idea of regulation, and despite claims by the government that the REUL Bill will serve business interests, this poll tells a very different story.

Indeed, 64% of businesses think the Bill will actually limit economic growth. 68% think it will cause more uncertainty for UK businesses. And 63% think that it will restrict their access to trade markets.

The survey findings do not paint a picture of business owners clamouring for the abolition of regulation. Indeed, ‘too much regulation’ is not seen by firms as a priority domestic issue – by any stretch. Rises in inflation, energy costs, concerns around Britain leaving the EU, and labour shortages vastly outrank excessive regulation as the most important issues businesses currently face.

In fact, the survey shows that the most firms recognise that strong regulations deliver multiple benefits . From providing a stable regulatory framework in which to do business and innovate, providing investment certainty, or winning consumer trust; UK businesses feel that sensible regulation is key to the UK’s success in establishing itself as a global leader on standards and technological innovation.

Government must rethink plans to scrap thousands of protections

This has interesting implications for the REUL Bill, which has drawn fierce opposition from Peers across parties as it travels through the Lords. We already know that the British public, including  WI members, overwhelmingly support robust social and environmental protections. Now, it seems that the very constituency this Bill is alleged to benefit is similarly reluctant to see important regulations tumbling headlong into the English Channel.

The way forward, we feel, is clear. Rather than holding fast to an outdated and unsupported political commitment to reduce regulations at all cost, we need to improve and strengthen the sensible rules that we all (UK businesses included) rely on.

Not only would this approach be more in step with the public and business mandate, we believe it is, quite simply, the right thing to do. At a time when people are facing a cost of living crisis and incomes are being squeezed, strong rules and protections are even more important in providing a guarantee that basic quality and safety standards are being met for everyone – regardless of income.

British people – regardless of their politics – want to leave generations to come with a flourishing natural environment, an abundance of wildlife, thriving local communities, a world-class food system, and safe and fair workplaces. UK businesses want to operate in favourable conditions which allow them to plan, innovate and invest with confidence. Strong, well-enforced regulations are a way of delivering on both these imperatives.  That’s why we, alongside hundreds of other organisations, are calling for the government to rethink these plans and scrap the Retained EU Law Bill.

Ann Jones, Chair, National Federation of Women’s Institutes
Emma Rose, Co-Director, Unchecked UK