Boris Johnson will next week try to reassure reluctant Eurosceptic Tory MPs that he is serious about a post-Brexit deregulation agenda, two years after Britain severed ties with the EU.
Johnson will publish a 100-page ‘benefits of Brexit’ article highlighting plans for future deregulation, including areas such as crop gene editing, artificial intelligence and data, as he seeks to strengthen its leadership.
But his critics are frustrated by the slow pace of reform, while pro-Europeans say it is proof that the promise of a post-Brexit regulatory bonfire has always been a right-wing pipe dream.
In recent weeks, Johnson has urged ministers to come up with initiatives to coincide with January 31, the anniversary of ‘full Brexit’, but some ideas have failed to make a difference.
Senior Whitehall officials said the rush to pull together a compelling list of initiatives from across departments to highlight Brexit opportunities had been a struggle.
Among the ideas considered for inclusion was a ban on curb parking, which has long been a demand from road safety and disability campaigners, but was later dropped by the newspaper’s Department of Transport.
Plans to include the measure baffled Whitehall officials, as the parking ban could have been enacted while the UK was a member of the EU. London banned kerbside parking in 1974 while the Scottish Parliament approved a ban in 2019.
Some government officials say former Brexit minister Lord Frost is partly to blame for the slow progress and has focused more on other areas, such as the Northern Ireland Protocol negotiations.
Newsletter Britain after Brexit
Keep up to date with the latest developments, post-Brexit, with original weekly insights from our public policy editor Peter Foster and the FT’s senior editors. Register here.
But Frost hinted in his resignation letter to Johnson last month that he blamed others for not committing enough to the deregulatory agenda: ‘entrepreneurial economics, cutting edge of modern science and economic change’ , he wrote.
Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader, produced a deregulation report for the Johnson administration last April, which included 100 ideas such as the return of imperial measures.
The ‘Task Force for Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform’ report says Britain should cut Europe’s data protection laws and clinical trials system for medicines and give funds greater freedom to invest in fast-growing technology companies.
For the past nine months, Duncan Smith has campaigned for the government to adopt the recommendations and has grown increasingly concerned about the apparent delay. “These are vital reforms that deliver the benefits of Brexit to the British people,” he told the FT.
Last September Frost announced the second phase of UK regulatory reform after Brexit but drew scorn from some when the main item on his list was to restore the crown symbol to pint glasses.
Slow progress has Brexit seniors concerned. This week, Sir William Cash, chairman of the European review board, wrote to Johnson asking for a progress report on plans announced last September to systematically revise EU laws that were automatically carried over into the book. British laws after Brexit. He noted that “five months had passed” with no apparent action.
The Treasury must also make a long-promised reform to the Solvency II regulations to ease capital requirements, giving insurers more flexibility to invest in UK infrastructure and business.
Meanwhile, Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries wonders how to design a new “fit for the 21st century” data regime that would simultaneously be “equivalent” to EU rules – allowing market access – while allowing Britain to exploit new markets.
Tech industry insiders said they were told to expect ‘nothing new’ in the document beyond existing reviews of post-Brexit data privacy and intelligence regulations artificial.