We need a Royal Commission to reshape UK regulation post-Brexit

We need a Royal Commission to reshape UK regulation post-Brexit

As the dust settles after the General Election, there is a clear consensus in the House of Commons – with over 80% of MPs representing parties that pledged to leave the EU single market – that the process of Brexit will continue.

But that process isn’t just about creating a clean exit that is consistent with controlling our laws, money, borders, fisheries and trade (although vital); it also means remaking the UK into a country that creates more opportunities for success.

For starters, the Government has announced that it will introduce a ‘Great Repeal Bill’. This is seemingly opposed by Jeremy Corbyn who described the General Election result as “making the Great Repeal Bill history“.  However, it should be remembered that the Government’s proposal is merely to transfer the body of EU law onto the UK’s Statute Book. The real work should start after that.

For this, both Iain Murray and I proposed that the Repeal Bill should also create a Royal Commission for Regulatory Reduction to assess the body of EU law in our book Cutting the Gordian Knot. Of course, the name of the Commission could change but the purpose wouldn’t: it should be given special powers to present packages of reforms before Parliament to be considered using streamlined procedures and allow for a wider involvement of both Parliament and the public in the process of remaking the United Kingdom post-Brexit.

As set out in the book, the idea is to allow for the due deliberation on existing regulations incorporated into law pursuant to the European Communities Act and hold public hearings on their effect. The Commission would also be bound by its terms of reference to consider when regulations had been “gold-plated” — going beyond the original EU intent for UK purposes — and provide recommendations on dealing with those.  Following review, the Commission would propose an annual package of regulatory revisions to be voted on without amendment by Parliament.

The prospect gives Parliament – and wider society – a continued role in the re-framing of UK law post leaving the EU’s formal legal structure.

The Commission’s set-up would be modelled on the successful Bases Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) in the United States, established in 1988 and given special legal standing by Congress in the Defense Base Realignment and Closure Act of 1990. It would be chaired by a current or former Justice of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, nominated by the Prime Minister, and six other members — three chosen by the Prime Minister from each of two lists of 10 candidates, one provided by the governing party, the other by the Opposition.

Membership of the Royal Commission below the chairman should be term-limited, with each member serving for no longer than two calendar years. Meetings of the Commission should be open to the public, except where classified information is discussed. All proceedings, deliberations, and information should be open to the chairmen of committees of Parliament.

More details about our proposed membership, structure and process is detailed in the book, although I would now add one or two new elements to that work. The first of those would be to include the wider think-tank world in discussing future regulatory structure. Too many times has a process like this been left to politicians and in-house technocrats. One lesson we must learn from the 2017 Conservative Manifesto, for instance, is to widen out the table for debate. This must include non-partisan think-tanks such as the Institute of Economic Affairs.

The Commission must also have several years to conclude its work. That said, the idea of introducing a sunset clause for EU legislation, as put forward by individuals such as Mark Littlewood, John Longworth and others, would be an informative and useful addition. It would mean that, unlike some past official inquiries, the work of the Commission doesn’t seemingly run on forever. But the timetable for this would go beyond the April 2019 date by which time the UK should have left the court structure.

As a result, I’d suggest that the introduction of the Great Repeal Bill, with current EU law and the set-up of the Commission, be introduced in late 2017 with a sunset clause on EU legislation of December 2020. This would mean that the Commission would report by December 2019, giving it the same amount of time to conduct its business as the Balance of Competences Review conducted between 2012 and 2014.

Setting up a Royal Commission wouldn’t just be a prudent move to allow better legislation be introduced post-Brexit, but it would also widen out the process beyond Whitehall and generate more ideas on the future direction of the UK. This could ensure a successful economic and political outlook for years to come as, remember, leaving the EU is merely the start of the process of reshaping the UK for the better, not the end.