Brexit: Why did the Red Tape Initiative Meet with BEIS?

Oliver Letwin Red Tape Initiative BEIS

The Red Tape Initiative, dubbed the “other Brexit department” by Politico, has so far only met with one government department since it launched in April, DeSmog UK has learnt – the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

According to the Red Tape Initiative’s (RTI) director-general Nick Tyrone, the group met once with BEIS officials “a few months ago”.

Tyrone told DeSmog UK that it was a general meeting to simply “put us on their radar”, adding that “we have only met with BEIS to date in terms of government departments”.  

The Red Tape Initiative is led by Conservative Oliver Letwin, who was, for just three weeks, the first Brexit secretary before David Davis took over the role.  Before the Brexit referendum, Letwin was responsible for leading the “clean growth committee” to coordinate decarbonisation efforts across government departments.

According to Tyrone, however, the government’s much anticipated and long-overdue Clean Growth Plan, where it will lay out plans to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, was not discussed with BEIS.

At no point did we discuss the Clean Growth Plan, or indeed, any specific policies at all, as at that point we had not yet conducted any panels. We certainly didn’t lobby BEIS on any legislative matter whatsoever,” Tyrone said.

Rather than discussing specific policy, he said: “The main purpose of the meeting was to find out from them whether our whole project was worth pursuing.”

In other words,” Tyrone explained, “did the department have something that would replicate the work we were about to set out doing too closely, thus making our work redundant?”

Asked to clarify further, he said: “I mean, were BEIS going to be holding evidence gathering meetings on the same topics for the same basic purpose. I didn’t think that was likely, but worth checking before money and effort was spent.”

Post-Brexit Rules

The RTI was set up in April with the aim of making suggestions to government about ways to change, clarify, or cut EU rules and regulations as they are adopted into British law after Brexit.

With hundreds of EU laws to translate in a short period of time, many have questioned whether government will be able to consider each rule or regulation individually and through the proper parliamentary procedures.

What the RTI hopes to do, Tyrone has previously told the media, is to spot changes that may have been missed by government and parliament.

The goal is to remove so-called regulatory burdens with cross-party support. As the group’s website states, it hopes “to forge a consensus on the regulatory changes that could benefit both businesses and their employees in a post-Brexit Britain”.

Over the next year and a half, the group will be holding sector by sector meetings to see what each sector’s biggest concerns are with post-Brexit regulations.

So, what they feel is absolutely necessary to keep from the EU regulatory framework post-Brexit,” explained Tyrone, “or what needs to be amended post-Brexit as the translation from EU Directive into UK law was either messy or had unintended consequences.

The idea is to come up with regulatory ideas that would gain support across the political spectrum – things business, the trade unions and the green lobby would all agree were at best a good idea, at worst, not a bad one.”

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The RTI’s meeting with BEIS was first revealed in a parliamentary question put forth in July by Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas and answered on 11 September. According to government, RTI and BEIS have also exchanged four emails – it’s unclear what these emails were about.

A BEIS spokesperson told DeSmog UK: “BEIS does not have a formal relationship with the Red Tape Initiative, which is a private organisation independent of Government, so to speak.

As you note, the answer to the Parliamentary question of 19th July this year confirms the extent of the contact that department officials have had with the RTI. We would not go in to detail about the content of private meetings or correspondence.”

Backed by Business

The RTI is backed by major business groups including the Institute of Directors, the CBI and the Federation of Small Businesses.

And the group has garnered some criticism since it launched earlier this year. Many fear that the initiative will lead to important safe guards meant to protect health and the environment being removed during the Brexit process.

The RTI's funding has been revealed to come from just four sources: £50,000 was donated by Jonathan Marland, David Cameron’s former trade envoy who also sits on RTI’s management board; £50,000 was donated by Geoffrey Guy, a chairman at GW Pharmaceuticals; £50,000 came from the Ana Leaf Foundation, a health charity based in Jersey; and £12,000 was given by the Public Interest Foundation, a policy not-for profit.

It’s worth noting that one of the trustees of the Ana Leaf Foundation is Hayley Du Putron, wife of Peter, a hedge fund boss who has given the Conservative Party more than £800,000 since sister-in-law Andrea Leadsom won a seat in Parliament.

Meanwhile the Public Interest Foundation backs right-wing think tanks Civitas and Policy Exchange. Civitas, in particular, is known for being highly opaque and part of a network of Brexit climate deniers.

As Politico described: “The idea of policy formation by what many feel is an old boys’ network (with some Labour and Lib Dem window-dressing) is causing disquiet in some quarters.”

Both pro-Brexit and those on the left have raised concerns about the group – some fear environmental protections will be erased, and health and safety standards weakened, while one anonymous senior figure of a pro-Brexit think tank told Politico that, while generally supportive of the initiative, they worried Brexit could be “hijacked by big business lobbies like the CBI”.

Green Issues

Suggestions about how EU regulations could be changed are driven by the RTI’s sector specific panels, which are made up of people from business, trade unions, think tanks and NGOs. Together, they come up with a series of policy recommendations which are then looked over by RTI’s legal and political panels before bringing the suggestions to government.

These panels take place behind closed doors Tyrone told DeSmog UK, adding that the names of each participant to the various panels will be included in the final recommendation reports, “so it will all be public knowledge once we finish our findings.”

Tyrone provided a list of the 10 individuals who made up the housing panel as an example of who is invited to participate and “what the composition of the panels looks like in practice.”

This includes: Susan Murray and Jerry Swain of Unite the Union, Lewis Sidnick of NHBC, Nick Williams of Pocket Living, Kate Jennings, head of site conservation at RSPB, Richard Twinn, a policy adviser at UK Green Building Council, David O’Leary of House Building Federation, Chris Brown of Igloo, Paul King and Lendlease, and Richard Blakeway of Policy Exchange.

It's unclear, however, what the RTI's role or influence will be when it comes to climate change.

When asked about the government's upcoming Clean Growth Plan, Tyrone told DeSmog UK: “RTI has no views on specific policies other than what emerges from the panels we hold (and the Clean Growth Plan has never been discussed at any of them).

“We simply take what emerges as a consensus from the panels we hold – so if someone on it doesn’t like something, we drop it.”

Before the Brexit referendum, the RTI's Letwin was the chair of the mysterious interdepartmental “clean growth committee”. Set up by David Cameron at the end of 2015, the committee was tasked with addressing public concerns about air quality following the VW dieselgate emissions scandal. The committee’s remit also included decarbonisation.

Beyond this, not much information about the committee ever came to light, including whether or not it was directly involved in shaping the still unreleased Clean Growth Plan, originally due at the end of 2016.

Looking ahead on green issues, Tyrone said that RTI is in the early stages of pushing for the EU’s nature directives “to be carried over post-Brexit mostly as is but with some better clarity for both conservationists and builders, in the interests of both the species in question and business.”

The EU has two nature directives – the Habitats Directive and Birds Directives that tackle species conservation. The aim, said Tyrone, is to give “maximum protection for species, while giving maximum clarity to builders as to what the rules are.” He highlighted bats in particular as being a focus of concern. 

Paul de Zylva of Friends of the Earth, however, worries this is an “oversimplification” of how the Nature Directives work. “Providing more clarity isn't enough,” he said. “The lack of proper implementation of these rules has been found to be the number one issue. Looking at newts or bats is not the same as looking at what is needed for all other species and habitats.”

Photo: Oliver Letwin, Policy Exchange via Flickr | CC 2.0

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