Rules on GM farming and cars to be top of UK bonfire of EU laws

Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA

Rules on genetically modified farming, medical devices and vehicle standards will be top of a bonfire of laws inherited from the EU as the government seeks to change legislation automatically transferred to the UK after Brexit.

Thousands of laws and regulations are to be reviewed, modified or repealed under a new programme aimed at cementing the UK’s independence and “Brexit opportunities”, David Frost has announced.

The Brexit minister told peers the government had a “mammoth task” ahead to improve or remove laws inherited through 50 years of the “legislative sausage machine” in Brussels.

Related: Brexit trade barriers added £600m in costs to UK importers this year

In the run-up to Brexit, the UK laid down 960 statutory instruments to roll EU laws over to the British statute books. The government is now looking at “developing a tailored mechanism for accelerating the repeal or amendment” of those, which may concern some MPs who fear the results of rushed lawmaking.

Government procurement rules, which have required contracts from national to local council to go to open tender, would also be modified, along with rules around data and artificial intelligence, Frost told the House of Lords.

The Brexit minister also announced that members of the public could contribute to the bonfire of laws. A standards commission would be established and, “under visible and energetic leadership”, would be able to pick up “ideas from any British citizen on how to repeal or improve regulation”.

Frost said now was the time to deliver the Brexit promise to “unleash Britain’s potential” and “improve growth and prosperity for everyone”.

The moves hark back to longstanding pledges of successive Conservative leaders and Brexiters to loosen the grip of EU law, including David Cameron, who promised to light “a bonfire of red tape”, and Nigel Lawson, who called for a “massive regulatory cull”.

David Frost has told peers the government has a ‘mammoth task’ ahead to improve or remove laws inherited from Brussels’ ‘legislative sausage machine’. Photograph: Kirsty O’Connor/PA

Frost promised a “review of the inherited approach to genetically modified organisms”, which include insects and soil bacteria used in farming, along with reform of “outdated EU legislation” around medical devices and clinical trials. This, he suggested, would help British research and development and help speed up access to lifesaving medicines for patients.

The Department for Transport would also be unveiling a new strategy to adapt EU standards for vehicles including cars and lorries to take advantage of “new transport technologies” and to ditch or repeal EU port services regulations, which the industry says have held back small ports because of onerous rules on cargo, mooring and ship-generated waste.

Frost promised to “supercharge” the artificial intelligence sector with the imminent publication of a national strategy to lead the world in the “AI ecosystem”. His announcement was a formal response to the initial recommendations from the taskforce on innovation, growth and regulatory reform, led by Iain Duncan Smith, one of the cheerleaders for lighter regulation.

“We now have the opportunity to do things differently and ensure that Brexit freedoms are used to help businesses and citizens get on and succeed. Today’s announcement is just the beginning. The government will go further and faster to create a competitive, high-standards regulatory environment which supports innovation and growth across the UK as we build back better from the pandemic,” said Frost.

Emily Thornberry, the shadow international trade secretary, questioned why the government was talking about Brexit opportunities while the country faced continuing shortages of staff and supplies and while exporters faced mounting losses on trade with the EU and businesses in Northern Ireland were “stuck in limbo”.

“Into all of that along comes the new paymaster general to talk about all the wonderful opportunities that await us because of the marvellous Brexit deal which is working so well at present,” she said.

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