Jessica Fino 31 Mar 2017 10:44am

Business world reacts to Great Repeal Bill White Paper

Business leaders have responded with excitement and trepidation following the government’s introduction of the Great Repeal Bill White Paper, which sets out to end the supremacy of EU law in the UK

The bill set out that laws and regulations made over the past 40 years while the UK was part of the EU will continue to apply following Theresa May's triggering of Article 50.

It will also repeal the European Communities Act 1972, which provided legal authority for EU law to have effect as national law in the UK.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said the bill brought businesses “stability and certainty” in the knowledge that Brexit will not mean sudden big changes in regulation over the next two years.

Mike Cherry, national chairman, said, “While transferring EU regulations into domestic UK law should eventually allow an overhaul of some of the more burdensome processes, which inhibit productivity, it is in no-one’s interest for there to be a cliff-edge moment.”

Both the Confederation of Small Businesses and the British Chambers of Commerce welcomed the bill, noting that clarity and continuity on rules will be vital for business planning and investment.

Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said, "Business communities around the UK want day-one certainty on the rules and regulations they will face when the UK leaves the EU. For that reason, the premise of stability and continuity at the heart of the Great Repeal Bill is welcome.”

The Institute of Directors (IoD) reacted to the bill by saying that is was a “good platform to build on”, showing the government was asking the “right questions about the fiddly process of making Brexit happen”.

However, the think tank claimed that the White Paper did not give all the answers, and that business still want to know how the transition process will work after Brexit.

The CBI also warned that transposing EU rules into UK law will be a complex process, especially for heavily regulated sectors like financial services and the automotive and pharmaceutical industries.

“Businesses will also need to know that they won’t face a cliff-edge at the end of the two-year Article 50 process,” said Josh Hardie, CBI’s deputy director-general.

He added, “A key objective during the negotiations should be continued access to EU markets for UK firms by cooperating on regulation. Business will want to see more details from the government on how this may be achieved.

“Having a different set of rules with our biggest trading partner could add significant complexity and costs, which would be most keenly felt by smaller firms.”

The BCC noted that a legislative transition of this size and scope has never before been implemented. As a result, it said it would be “watching carefully” to ensure there are no unintended consequences for individual firms, for sectors or for business communities as a whole.

Marshall added, "The government must be exceedingly careful in its use of proposed fast-track powers, or risk blighting businesses with additional costs and burdens.

“As we have seen in the past, it only takes one poorly-drafted regulation to spark expensive court cases with wide-reaching consequences - and we are talking here about re-drafting thousands of pieces of the rule-book.”

Meanwhile, the CBI urged the government to explore targeted opportunities for regulatory flexibility in consultation with business, “but not at the expense of access to international markets”.

Hardie said, “While the Great Repeal Bill is an important piece of the jigsaw, it must go hand-in-hand with securing some early wins in the Brexit negotiations to give businesses confidence that the UK and EU will achieve a successful outcome.”

The FSB also called on government to make some regulations simpler to comply with, allowing small firms to grow more easily, while the BCC asked the government to determine areas where maintaining equivalence with EU law is in our national economic interest, and areas where some divergence and change may be required.

“This will be a complex endeavour, better done right than done quickly," Cherry said.

Allie Renison, head of EU and trade policy at the IoD, also highlighted that the absolute priority for businesses was continuity.

“We have to avoid a legal vacuum where no one knows what rules and regulations they should be following. Confirming that nothing will change on the day that we leave the EU helps to give companies certainty,” Renison said.

The IoD added, “We are still concerned about the potential for disruption if there is a period between withdrawal and a new framework coming into effect, so some pragmatism is needed with respect to sorting out the legal relationship between the UK and EU in any such bridging period.”