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After Brexit the Tories nonetheless can’t escape EU purple tape

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The author is an FT contributing editor

I had hoped by no means once more to write down concerning the lawnmower directive. Unhappy to say, three a long time after the EU set a typical customary for motorised grass-cutters and 6 years after the Brexit vote, Tory Eurosceptics have nonetheless not grasped that Britain can’t merely play the worldwide recreation by its personal guidelines.

The competition to exchange Boris Johnson has scarcely been uplifting. Promising to rescue the nation, the candidates conveniently overlook that the Conservatives have been in authorities for greater than a decade. Their very own outstanding cupboard roles in Johnson’s disgraced administration are equally neglected. As a substitute they’re reaching again to the Nineteen Eighties. 

The frontrunner Liz Truss has disinterred tax-cuts-pay-for-themselves Reaganomics. Rishi Sunak trumpets Thatcherite corner-shop thrift. Neither has something near a method to treatment the nation’s deep-seated financial ills, to restore the political fractures jeopardising the way forward for the UK union, or to rebuild Britain’s tarnished worldwide standing.

One factor they agree on is that the EU continues to be a risk. They’ve thrown their weight behind laws to repudiate the Northern Eire commerce preparations agreed within the Brexit treaty with the EU. This guarantees an additional souring of relations with Britain’s neighbours and to undermine its fame as a dependable worldwide associate.

The 2 would-be prime ministers are additionally promising a “bonfire” of these EU regulations retained in UK regulation. The federal government has counted greater than 2,400 items of EU-derived laws nonetheless on the statute e book. Sweep them away, the contenders say, and, hey presto, Britain will return to the sunlit uplands of financial development.

Sunak pledges that: “I might go additional and quicker in utilizing the freedoms Brexit has given us to chop the mass of EU laws and forms holding again our development.” Truss is to not be outdone: “EU laws hinder our companies . . . I’ll seize the possibility to diverge from outdated EU regulation and frameworks and capitalise on the alternatives we have now.”

Each overlook the federal government’s personal estimate that scrapping the EU regulatory regime for the chemical substances business in favour of a UK-only model is more likely to price enterprise some £2bn. This the invoice for only one industrial sector. Corporations throughout the economic system will now be instructed to stump up for the price of changing EU guidelines with homegrown purple tape. All to no function save mollifying hardline Brexiters on the Tory backbenches.

Which takes us again to that ban on noisy lawnmowers. The regulation turned a trigger célèbre for the then comparatively small band of Tory Eurosceptics who railed in opposition to the Maastricht treaty throughout the Nineties. Even some pro-Europeans had been initially mystified as to why Brussels ought to delve so deeply into the nooks and crannies of nationwide life.

Douglas Hurd, the overseas secretary, ordered an investigation. Removed from being an instance of EU over-reach, the directive had been a British initiative. Environmentally-conscious Germany had saved out British-made lawnmowers citing “noise air pollution”. By persuading Brussels to set a comparatively excessive decibel ceiling, Britain opened up the market. The identical Whitehall technique, by the way, led to EU laws on bike engines.

There ought to have been nothing shocking right here. As a champion of the only market, Margaret Thatcher accepted that joint regulation was one of the best path to commerce liberalisation. When British (or for that matter French or German) corporations confronted gross sales boundaries in different EU markets, they petitioned governments to press for EU guidelines.

Truss and Sunak are proper in fact that Brexit means they will now tear up all these laws. However they’re wholly mistaken in suggesting Britain can escape them. UK companies in impact must pay twice. At the same time as they stump up for a brand new panoply of nationwide regulation and oversight, corporations that function within the EU will even must proceed to satisfy the requirements set by Brussels. Name it a double-whammy of UK and EU regulation.

The uncomfortable reality is that Brexit turned Britain from a rulemaker right into a rule-taker. The brand new prime minister can actually scrap EU-derived laws. Probably there are a handful of guidelines that would usefully be disposed of. However principally, enterprise can pay a heavy value. Whether or not it’s lawnmowers or chemical substances, the EU will proceed to resolve what might be bought within the single market. Britain’s economic system is sliding in direction of recession. Unusual then, that the 2 candidates for the premiership are promising to offer it one other shove in the identical path.

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