Post-Brexit Britain should abandon the EU’s “excessively cautious” approach to regulation and light a bonfire of red tape to fuel economic growth, a task force commissioned by Boris Johnson has said.
In the first major blueprint for regulatory reform since leaving the bloc, a group of senior Tory MPs have urged the Prime Minister to junk the “precautionary principle”, which they warn is stifling British businesses.
Written into EU law, the principle is a wide-ranging approach to regulating innovation which could pose a risk in public health, food safety and the environment.
Branded unscientific and reactionary by critics, it impacts an array of sectors such as science and agriculture, and is the primary reason why Brussels refuses to embrace new technologies such as genetically-edited crops.
It was also seen as a factor in why a number of EU member states jumped to suspend the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine earlier this year, due to the link to very rare blood clots.
The Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform said the Government should now replace it with a British “proportionality principle”.
While this would still require regulation to be drawn up in a way that protects consumers, employees and the environment, it would ensure that risk is balanced against the potential rewards from better economic growth and productivity.
It is one of more than 120 recommendations put forward in their report, which also calls for changes to “unleash substantial growth” in 10 sectors, including financial services, green energy, food, transport, agriculture and health.
Other recommendations include re-establishing the “one in, two out” rule, requiring government departments to remove or modify existing regulations to the value of £2 of savings for every pound of cost imposed on business by new rules.
The report also called for an overhaul of data protection rules, and for the UK to build on its Covid-19 genomics sequencing success and become a world-leader in clinical trials by replacing the EU’s framework with a UK version.
Genomic sequencing | Born in the UK
And while the task force believes the UK should throw itself into gene editing of crops over gene modification – which is considered a more risky approach involving inserting genes from other species – they say there are circumstances where certain GM crops should be considered if they offer “significant environmental, health or economic benefits”.
The group was chaired by Sir Ian Duncan Smith, former Tory leader, who was joined by Theresa Villiers, former Environment Secretary, and George Freeman, ex-transport minister.
The task force has already held talks with the “better regulation” Cabinet committee, chaired by Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, which was set up to coordinate post-Brexit reform. The Government is due to respond later this year.
Writing for The Telegraph on Wednesday, the authors said: “In an age of extraordinarily fast technological change, the freedom to set our own regulatory standards offers huge opportunities.
“As the EU has expanded, its internal processes have become slower and more bureaucratic and its approach to the ‘Precautionary Principle’ has become an excuse for neglecting the role of regulation in economic competitiveness.
“With the power to create our own laws, we can lead globally on standards and build a regulatory system which supports innovation and competition.”
Welcoming their proposals on Tuesday night, Mr Johnson said: “It is obvious that the UK’s innovators and entrepreneurs can lead the world in the economy of the future, creating new opportunities and greater prosperity along the way, and levelling up our whole country in the process.
“But your report makes it equally clear that, whether in data reform or clinical trials, offshore wind or autonomous vehicles, this can only happen if we clear a path through the thicket of burdensome and restrictive regulation that has grown up around our industries over the past half century.”
Lord Frost, the Brexit cabinet minister, also announced on Tuesday night the creation of a Brexit Opportunities Unit, made up of a range of experts, to support his work in drawing up new regulations and reshaping Britain outside of the EU.
The proposals will be viewed with suspicion in Brussels, which has long feared Brexit will be used to transform the UK into a highly-competitive, low-regulation “Singapore-on-Thames”.
Under level-playing field provisions in the Brexit trade deal, the EU could seek to trigger rebalancing mechanisms such as tariffs if the UK diverges too far in areas such as tax, state aid, labour rights and the environment.
In their 130-page report, the task force also called for pension and insurance funds to be able to invest in “small and scaling-up” businesses that are helping to drive the Government’s green and levelling up agendas, helping to unlock up to £100 billion.
It goes on to call for an overhaul of burdensome EU red tape on financial services and for regulators to support the rapidly growing fintech sector.
Elsewhere, it says the Government should embrace the digital revolution in healthcare, with artificial intelligence and other digital technologies, such as approved health and mental health apps, playing a greater role.
They added that this digital revolution could further support “better health outcomes throughout people’s lives,” including from “wellness to diagnosis, all the way through to disease treatment”.
The report recommended scrapping EU regulation on clinical trials, which it argues is inhibiting Britain’s ability to become a world leader in areas such as vaccine development.
This would be replaced by a British framework to streamline processes, which would build on the UK’s Recovery Trial for identifying new treatments for Covid-19, and its genomics sequencing for detecting new variants.
On data, the report said that the general data protection regulation (GDPR) should be replaced with a new framework which would give people more control over their personal information, while also allowing public and healthcare services and digital businesses to use it more flexibly.