Boris Johnson will next week attempt to reassure restive Eurosceptic Tory MPs that he is serious about a post-Brexit programme of deregulation, two years after Britain broke its ties with the EU.
Johnson will publish a 100-page “benefits of Brexit” paper highlighting plans for future deregulation, including areas such as gene editing of crops, artificial intelligence and data, as he seeks to shore up his leadership.
But his critics are frustrated by the slow pace of reform, while pro-Europeans claim it is proof that the promise of a post-Brexit regulatory bonfire was always a rightwing pipe dream.
Over the past few weeks Johnson has urged ministers to come up with initiatives to coincide with the January 31 anniversary of “full Brexit”, but some ideas have failed to make the cut.
Senior Whitehall insiders said the hurry to bring together a convincing list of initiatives from across government departments to highlight the opportunities of Brexit had been a struggle.
Among the ideas considered for inclusion was a Department for Transport ban on pavement parking, which has long been a demand of road safety and disability campaigners, but it was later dropped from the paper.
The plan to include the measure baffled Whitehall officials, since the parking ban could have been enacted while the UK was an EU member. London banned pavement parking in 1974 while the Scottish Parliament approved a ban in 2019.
Some government officials say Lord Frost, former Brexit minister, is partly to blame for the slow progress and that he was more focused on other areas, such as negotiations on the Northern Ireland protocol.
But Frost hinted in his resignation letter to Johnson last month that he blamed others for failing to engage sufficiently with the deregulation agenda: “I hope we will move as fast as possible to where we need to get to: a lightly regulated, low-tax, entrepreneurial economy, at the cutting edge of modern science and economic change,” he wrote.
Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader, produced a deregulation report for Johnson’s administration last April which included 100 ideas such as bringing back imperial measurements.
The report by the “task force for innovation, growth and regulatory reform” said Britain should whittle away EU data protection laws and the system for clinical trials for drugs and give pension funds greater freedom to invest in fast-growing tech companies.
For the past nine months Duncan Smith has campaigned for the government to adopt the recommendations and has become increasingly concerned at the apparent delay. “These are vital reforms that deliver the benefits of Brexit to the British people,” he told the FT.
Last September Frost announced the second phase of UK regulatory reform after Brexit, but attracted scorn in some quarters when the lead item on his list was to restore the crown symbol to pint glasses.
The slow pace of progress has concerned senior Brexiters. This week Sir William Cash, chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, wrote to Johnson asking for a progress report on plans announced last September to systematically review EU laws that were automatically carried on to the UK statute book after Brexit. He noted that “five months had passed” without apparent action.
The Treasury is also still to deliver long-promised reform to the Solvency II regulations to ease capital requirements, giving insurers more flexibility to invest in UK infrastructure and business.
Meanwhile Nadine Dorries, culture secretary, is grappling with how to devise a new data regime “fit for the 21st century” that would simultaneously be “equivalent” to rules in the EU — allowing market access — while allowing Britain to exploit new markets.
Tech industry insiders said they had been told to expect “nothing new” in the document beyond existing reviews into post-Brexit data privacy regulations and artificial intelligence.