The EU and Union Jack flags are flown outside the Houses of Parliament in London
FILE PHOTO-The European Union and Union Jack flags are flown outside the Houses of Parliament, in London, Britain February 9, 2022. Reuters

The British government no longer intends to remove all European Union laws by the end of this year, a flagship policy for hardline Brexiteers that sparked warnings from business and the opposition about legal uncertainty and bureaucratic chaos.

The government said on Wednesday it would amend legislation currently making its way through parliament to propose revoking by the end of 2023 only around 600 of the almost 4,000 EU laws remaining since Britain left the bloc in 2020.

The Retained EU Law (REUL) bill had aimed to automatically remove any remaining EU laws at the end of this year unless they were explicitly chosen to be saved, and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's spokesperson said in January the government would not extend that deadline.

"Today the government is tabling an amendment ... which will replace the current sunset in the Bill with a list of the retained EU laws that we intend to revoke under the Bill at the end of 2023," business and trade minister Kemi Badenoch said in a written statement to parliament.

"This provides certainty for business by making it clear which regulations will be removed from our statute book, instead of highlighting only the REUL that would be saved."

Badenoch said 1,000 EU laws had already been revoked or reformed since Britain left the EU and a further 500 would be revoked by two other bills which are in the process of making their way through parliament.

But Jacob Rees-Mogg, a hardline Brexiteer and business minister at the time the bill was introduced, expressed disappointment at the decision.

"Regrettably the Prime Minister has shredded his own promise rather than EU laws," he tweeted.

Opposition politicians have been warning the revocation of EU law would create massive amounts of work for departments with little benefit, empower ministers to replace laws as they see fit, and open the door to weaker regulatory protections.

Almost half of British directors would prefer to retain laws inherited from the EU instead of seeing the government remove them, an Institute of Directors survey published this month found.

Badenoch said the government would still end the special status of retained EU law by the end of the year, but acknowledged the "growing volume" of retained law being identified and the legal risks of sunsetting the laws had impacted the process of reviewing them.

"It has become clear that the programme was becoming more about reducing legal risk by preserving EU laws than prioritising meaningful reform," she said. "That is why today I am proposing a new approach."