Rees-Mogg mocks the precautionary principle

Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg appeared keen to ditch the precautionary principle while giving evidence to a committee of MPs last week. Meanwhile, a government policy statement on environmental principles, which would include the precautionary principle, remains missing.

At a session of the European Scrutiny Committee’s inquiry called ‘Retained EU Law: Where Next?’, the minister of state for Brexit opportunities and government efficiency was asked whether civil servants could “be shaken away from the precautionary principle as easily as you may hope?”

Responding, Rees-Mogg said: “If you follow the precautionary principle to its logical extent we would never go into our kitchens or our bathrooms, which I believe are the most dangerous places in our houses, let alone ever walk up or down our own staircases, in which case we would never get outside the front door. 

“I don’t think it’s a sensible way to live one's life.”

A government policy statement on environmental principles has been delayed. It is required under the Environment Act 2021 and despite a draft statement having been put out for consultation between May and June 2021, the government has not yet published it. 

The draft states that the precautionary principle should ensure that “where there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage, a lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation”.

DEFRA’s draft environmental principles: 7 things you need to know

Green groups have raised concerns that the government is now making environmental policy without having established the principles which should underpin the policymaking. Green MP Caroline Lucas said the government was “running scared” because it knows “it will be held to account for its failure to meet those principles”. 

Rees Mogg said he plans to implement the Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform (TIGRR) report and “go further” than some of the recommendations it made, via the ‘Brexit Freedoms Bill’, which will provide the mechanism for fundamental reforms. However, much EU law was made via secondary instruments and can therefore be removed by secondary instruments, Rees Mogg noted.  

Chris Carr, the current director of better regulation at BEIS, is to head up Rees Mogg’s 31-person strong Brexit Opportunities Unit that “sits physically in the Treasury but metaphysically in the Cabinet Office”, said Rees Mogg.