Kemi Badenoch has insisted a decision to scale back post-Brexit plans to scrap EU laws was hers, as senior Conservative MPs criticised the “massive climbdown”.
The Government had originally promised a “sunset” clause on all laws carried over from the trade bloc by the end of 2023 under its Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill.
Senior Brexit-backing Tories questioned Ms Badenoch about the decision to water down the plans, with Jacob Rees-Mogg and Dominic Raab among those suggesting “civil service idleness” was to blame.
Former minister Mark Francois insisted there had been a majority of Tory support for the Bill in the Commons.
He added: “Why, then, when it’s gone to the House of Lords has the Government performed a massive climbdown on its own Bill despite having such strong support from its own back benches? Secretary of State, what on earth are you playing at?”
Ms Badenoch replied: “He should know that I am not somebody who gets pushed around lightly. The fact is I went in and looked at the detail and I decided this was the best way to deliver it.”
“This was not, and I will stress again, this was not the Prime Minister’s decision,” she added. “As a Secretary of State I have to be responsible and look at what we can make sure is deliverable.
“This is the best way to get him what he wants.”
Badenoch also drew anger from the Commons speaker, who asked her: “Who do you think you’re speaking to?… I am not going to be spoken to by a Secretary of State who is absolutely not accepting my ruling”.
Ms Badenoch hit back at her critics, suggesting some Tory Brexiteers were unable to even cite the legislation they wanted culling.
She told TalkTV’s First Edition programme: “I asked MPs who had been in that meeting what they wanted to remove and they couldn’t say anything, and that is more illustrative than the problem we have.
“There are many people across Parliament, in the media, and in the commentariat who make a lot of noise but they’re not the ones who have to do the doing.”
In the Commons, former justice secretary Mr Raab, meanwhile, urged Ms Badenoch to “resist the resistance in Whitehall” to the proposals.
He claimed the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) under his leadership had identified a huge number of laws to repeal or to be altered, and said the Government should publish a “department-by-department analysis” of laws set to be scrapped.
He added: “Can I also gently suggest that she resist the resistance in Whitehall that suggests it can’t be done? If it can be done at the MoJ, I am pretty confident it can be done elsewhere.”
Mr Rees-Mogg, who originally steered the Bill through the Commons as business secretary, asked: “Will she explain whether this abdication to the House of Lords has come about because of civil service idleness or a lack of ministerial drive?”
Ms Badenoch replied: “No, I don’t think it has come out of any idleness. If anything, I would say the civil servants have been working feverishly on this.
“What they have been doing is preserving, not repealing, and certainly not getting the reforms that we want. This approach means that we can now do that.”
She earlier told the Commons “no work has been wasted”, adding: “It is the very efforts that civil servants have made that have identified which bits of law need to be repealed and which ones need to be reformed.”
Press Association – David Lynch, Martina Bet and Elizabeth Arnold