Brexiters’ obsession with red tape could hurt us badly

by Luke Lythgoe | 03.04.2017

If hardliners persuade Theresa May to promise a bonfire of red tape, we’ll struggle to get trade deal with EU. And all for very little benefit. When Brexiters single out which rules they want to scrap, they often turn out to be trivial or poorly understood.

Leading the vanguard of the bonfire brigade is the Daily Telegraph, which last week launched a campaign to “cut the EU red tape choking Britain”. The paper wants the Conservative party to “promise a bonfire of EU red tape in its 2020 manifesto”.

Such an approach would put us on course for confrontation with the EU. The European Council’s draft negotiating guidelines for Brexit say a future trade deal requires “safeguards against unfair competitive advantages through, inter alia, fiscal, social and environmental dumping”.

Hardline Brexiters may say that this is a reason to stop wasting time on cutting a trade deal with the EU and that, instead, we should just rely on commerce under World Trade Organisation rules. Quite apart from the fact that this would hammer the economy, one wonders whether we would really end up slashing that much red tape. Just look at three of the Brexiters’ biggest bugbears.

Drug trials

Michael Gove recently revived the argument that Brexit would let us overturn the Clinical Trials Directive, on the grounds that it holds us back from developing drugs which could end “pain and misery”. What he didn’t mention is that the directive will next year be replaced by a new regulation which healthcare professionals seem to like very much – so, by the time we quit the EU, there won’t be any Clinical Trials Directive to scrap.

Perhaps the former Vote Leave campaign chair is really saying he wants to end all British cooperation in EU drug trials. If so, our battle against diseases like child cancer, where there are usually not enough cases in one country to make a trial viable, could suffer.

Bendy bananas

The so-called bendy banana regulation is one of five that The Telegraph wants to see the back of. Contrary to common misconceptions, this rule doesn’t ban bendy bananas. Instead, it harmonises the classification of bananas for international trade, ensuring retailers know what they are ordering. Brussels never banned bendy bananas. In fact, the rules explicitly allow Class 2 bananas to have full-on “defects of shape”.

The Telegraph doesn’t even try to produce an argument that scrapping the rule would have any benefit. It merely says Boris Johnson highlighted the issue during the referendum campaign, as if referring to the foreign secretary’s views was authority enough.

Feeble vacuum cleaners

The Telegraph says energy efficiency rules, another of its five bugbears, have “banned many of the best vacuum cleaners on sale”. The reality, acknowledged by one-time critic of the relevant directive Which?, is that manufacturers innovated around the problem and now sell equally powerful vacuum cleaners which are much more energy efficient.

So if the hardliners have their way with May, they’ll damage the economy with no significant countervailing benefits.

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    Edited by Hugo Dixon

    One Response to “Brexiters’ obsession with red tape could hurt us badly”

    • Strange! I was under the impression that Brexiteers intensely disliked “red tape”. Something for which they have been continually blaming on the EU for many years.