Tory ‘Horse-Piss’ — To Quote Shakespeare — on Brexit

Britain’s struggle to scrub its books of EU law is yet another warning to independent countries to avoid multilateral treaties like the plague.

Steve Reigate/pool via AP
Prime Minister Sunak at the COP27 climate summit at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, November 7, 2022. Steve Reigate/pool via AP

The latest turn in the drama of Brexit will add up to yet another warning to independent countries to avoid multilateral treaties like the plague. For it turns out that extricating itself from a multilateral treaty, even one with the unambiguous right to leave, can turn into a never-ending process. It doesn’t mean that one has to accept defeat — on the contrary. It does mean that these treaties have a quicksand process on which it will pay to be alert.

Prime Minister Sunak is already being tested by Brexit, if the latest news out of London is any indication. A Financial Times “alert” informs us that Mr. Sunak “has started backing away” from one of the key elements of the restoration of British Independence: scrubbing the law books of any lingering measures from the European superstate. The setback comes at a perilous moment as the liberal press renews calls to reverse Brexit.

The volte-face on the drive to restore Britain’s laws to their pristine, pre-EU membership condition marks a troubling setback for the “colossal mandate” Mr. Sunak inherited from his predecessor at 10 Downing Street, Boris Johnson. It’s an ambitious undertaking:  “replacing or scrapping European Union regulations that were copied into British law,” as Reuters puts it, during the period of Britain’s entanglement with the EU.

“We now have the opportunity to do things differently,” trumpeted Mr. Johnson’s Brexit minister, Lord David Frost, in 2021. He explained to his fellow Lords in the parliament’s upper house “our intention is eventually to amend, to replace or to repeal all that retained EU law that is not right for the UK.” These laws have remained on the books, Reuters explains, to “avoid uncertainty and confusion” as the Brexit process unfolded.

Lord Frost hailed the opportunity, granted by Brexit, for an independent Britain to forge its own path, especially when it came to burdensome rules imposed on the economy by Brussels bureaucrats. He urged going “further and faster” to purge these laws “to create a competitive, high-standards regulatory environment” that “supports innovation and growth.” In the current economic crisis, what could be more pressing?

The decision to back away from this process of scrubbing the laws reflects a lapse in judgment for Mr. Sunak. He already raised doubts about his resolution when he reversed on his earlier decision to dodge the UN Climate-klatch and jetted down to Sharm el-Sheikh — “despite having nothing of value to do or say,” as the Guardian’s John Crace observes. If he can’t hold the line on a climate conference, how will he manage against the EU?

The trouble came to light after it emerged that it will take longer than expected to unravel the tangle of EU red tape in Britain’s law books. The process was supposed to be done by the end of 2023. Yet now British bureaucrats grouse that there are more measures than foreseen. On top of such laws as Britain reckoned existed it turns out that it’s found another 1,400 — that’s one thousand four hundred — and reviewing or getting rid of them will take years.

The former business minister, who oversees this effort, Jacob Rees-Mogg, was a champion of the drive “to expunge any vestiges of EU law on domestic statute books,” the Guardian observes. His replacement, Grant Shapps, appears to lack the ardor needed for the task at hand. He is “keen to slow down the review,” the FT reports, due to the extra staff required to finish the job. “We will slow things down to a sane pace,” an “ally” of Mr. Shapps says. 

The first person we called about this was our Brexit Diarist, Stephen MacLean. “I do smell all horse-piss, at which my nose is in great indignation,” the well-read Mr. MacLean responded, citing Shakespeare’s “Tempest.” He has a penchant for politesse. Our own reaction is to mark the upside of the Republicans’ potential accession to the leadership of Congress for Brexit’s future — and that Mr. Sunak, whose heart is in the right place, may need the GOP’s help.


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