Brexit regulation problems putting consumers at risk, MPs warn

Safety regulators struggling to recruit enough staff

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Wednesday 12 October 2022 01:01 BST
Prime minister Liz Truss and chancellor of the exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng
Prime minister Liz Truss and chancellor of the exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng (PA Wire)

Problems with the UK’s regulatory system caused by Brexit are putting British consumers at risk, a cross-party committee of MPs has warned.

In a scathing report released on Wednesday the influential Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said agencies were “struggling to recruit and retain the skills they need to regulate effectively”.

The MPs highlighted a shortage of vets to monitor food safety and animal welfare in abattoirs, as well as of toxicologists to assess chemical and food safety.

Similar problems are also hitting competition regulators because of a shortage of lawyers and economists.

The warning comes after Liz Truss promised during the Tory leadership campaign that she would scrap all remaining EU regulations in the coming years.

The prime minister is thought to be particularly keen on deregulation because she believes it will boost growth – though she has provoked anger from groups like the National Trust and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) after suggestions she could water down environmental rules.

Sectors across the UK have reported recruitment issues since Britain left the single market and ended free movement with the continent.

But the PAC now warned the problems were now hitting regulators. In evidence to the committee the Food Standards Agency (FSA) described the current situation as “hand-to-mouth” when it came to recruiting and retaining vets in sufficient numbers.

Meg Hillier, the chair of the committee, said: “Six years after the Brexit vote and with key international trade agreements still dangling years out of sight, repeated delays to implementing a new import regime continue to impact British businesses and increase risks for consumers.”

“Poor preparation and planning” by the government had “combined with international political realities and the result is exposure of UK consumers and businesses to greater risks and costs”, she added.

The committee also warned that while the UK’s post-Brexit regulatory regime was yet to take real shape, there was a risk of increased costs for businesses because of divergence with Europe.

The Scottish National Party’s (SNP) consumer spokesperson Patricia Gibson said the report was yet another “showing that Brexit and Westminster policies are causing instability and labour shortages, and threatening standards”.

And Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labour’s shadow international trade secretary, said that the government’s “chronic lack of grip” was undermining UK business.

“The Public Accounts Committee’s work has exposed some of the roots of the Conservatives’ appalling record on securing trade deals and growth. This government has crashed the economy, with plans made in Downing Street and working people are paying the price,” he said.

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