Unions have voiced concern that Conservative leadership contender Liz Truss could launch a ‘bonfire of rights’ if she becomes prime minister.
She began her leadership campaign this weekend with a pledge to scrap any remaining EU-derived laws by the end of 2023.
The current foreign secretary and favourite to win the leadership contest said her plan would evaluate each remaining EU law and regulation “on the basis of whether it supports UK growth or boosts investment”.
Those that did not meet these criteria – potentially including a number of laws that grant workers rights – would disappear by the end of 2023.
Truss said this would “unleash the full potential of Britain post-Brexit, and accelerate plans to get EU law off our statute books so we can boost growth and make the most of our newfound freedoms outside the EU”.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said her pledge was “ideological posturing at the expense of ordinary working people”. “These [laws] are all essential, not a nice-to-have,” she said.
Dave Penman, head of civil service union FDA, questioned whether civil service staffing levels would be up to the job of reviewing and removing hundreds of pieces of legislation from the statute books.
There are currently plans to reduce civil service headcount by as many as one in five roles over the next three years.
“If a new prime minister also wants to review thousands of pieces of legislation, then something needs to give,” said Penman. “Any serious government needs to demonstrate how it will match resources with commitments, otherwise this is just fantasy politics.”
A further issue could be friction with Brussels – according to the terms of the Brexit deal, the UK must not weaken or reduce the level of employment rights in a way that could affect trade or investment.
Fellow leadership candidate Rishi Sunak has previously indicated he would appoint a new Brexit minister to look at remaining EU legislation, and would introduce any changes within the first 100 days of becoming prime minister.
The successful candidate will be announced on 5 September, with the leader likely to take over as prime minister the next day.