Brexit paralysis: Theresa May shelves flagship 'ghost policies' for workers, householders and abused women

Prime minister accused of ‘repeated consultations, endless delays and vague promises of legislation that simply never appear’ – despite vow to tackle ‘burning injustices’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Saturday 22 December 2018 19:43
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Theresa May has shelved flagship policies that promised help to workers, householders and abused women as the Brexit crisis has devoured her government, The Independent can reveal.

A batch of key pledges – now dubbed “ghost policies” – have hit the buffers as the huge task of leaving the EU has sidelined her other priorities.

Among them are moves to prevent restaurant and bar bosses snatching workers’ tips, to stop residents being “exploited” by ripoff leases or rogue bailiffs and to ban wild animals from circuses.

Other crucial policies gathering dust would use schools to tackle childhood obesity and help women suffering sexual, psychological and violent abuse.

The delays are being seen as further evidence that Ms May’s celebrated pledge to tackle society’s “burning injustices” – rather than be remembered as the “Brexit prime minister” – has had to be abandoned.

Civil service resources and time have been diverted to preparing for EU withdrawal and the government’s legislative programme has been dominated by Brexit bills.

The “ghost policies” are in addition to better-known examples of pledges on hold – including long-term plans for the NHS and social care, both postponed until the new year.

Labour seized on the logjam as evidence that Ms May’s “flagship pledges have sunk without trace” – while the Liberal Democrats said it strengthened the case for a Final Say referendum on Brexit to end the “paralysis”.

The ghost policies include:

* Stopping restaurant and bar bosses from exploiting staff by snatching tips to top up their wages. Many major chains have been named-and-shamed for deducting up to 10 per cent.

A consultation first proposed outlawing the practice way back in 2016. Ms May pledged to act in October – a promise repeated in an official government response this week – but only “when parliamentary time allows”.

* Preventing house buyers being “exploited” by rip-off leases, which allow ground rents to double every 10 years and residents to be charged tens of thousands of pounds to buy freeholds.

The government promised it would legislate exactly one year ago – but instead, in October, announced a fresh consultation near-identical to the one staged in 2017.

* Tackling domestic violence – through such measures as electronic tags and mandatory drug and alcohol treatment for abusers, with tougher sentences where their crimes affect children.

Back in May 2017, the prime minister promised to “put an end to this abhorrent crime for good”, a consultation closed seven months ago – but not even a draft bill has been published.

* Tackling rogue bailiffs – whose aggressive tactics against people who fall behind on household bills have been blamed for further debt and mental health problems.

Ministers issued a “call for evidence” in April, after 2014 reforms were deemed to have fallen short – which was followed by another call for evidence seven months later.

* Banning wild animals from circuses – Michael Gove promised a bill in January, after 94.5 per cent of the public backed a ban in a consultation, but no legislation has followed.

For years, campaigners have protested that camels, zebra and reindeer are beaten, starved and keep in unsanitary conditions while made to perform for crowds. David Cameron first pledged to act in 2010.

* A “healthy rating” scheme to ensure schools are tackling childhood obesity by “helping children to eat better and move more”.

First proposed in August 2016, the department for education said this month it was still “preparing our scheme based on testing and stakeholder feedback”. Progress was promised “shortly” – the same word used in June.

Stephanie Peacock, a Labour whip, said: “It appears the Tories are so divided and distracted that they can only offer ‘ghost policies’, with repeated consultations, endless delays and vague promises of legislation that simply never appear.

“It’s just the latest sign that the government has ground to a halt, brought to its knees by its own shambolic Brexit mess. The prime minister may still be clinging to office but her flagship pledges have sunk without trace.”

And Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat leader, said: “The Tories’ Brexit-induced paralysis is delaying vital legislation and letting people down. The failure to bring forward the domestic abuse bill, for example, is deeply serious.

“The only way to break the parliamentary deadlock on Brexit, so MPs can progress legislation, is a people’s vote with the option to remain in the EU.”

But a government spokesperson said: “As well as delivering on the vote of the British people to leave the EU, the government is driving forward domestic reform – bearing fruit in the largest new investment in the NHS’s history, rising school standards, with a strongly growing economy and unemployment at a record low.”

The gridlock is set to worsen in the new year, after the prime minister’s decision to ramp up preparations for a no-deal Brexit, as her deal appears doomed to defeat in the second week of January.

A further cull of manifesto promises is expected, to clear the way for the emergency legislation that will be needed if the UK is to crash out of the EU without a deal.

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