UK PM Sunak will not extend deadline to replace EU laws - spokesman

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak visits Scotland

By Alistair Smout

LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will not extend an end-of-year deadline to replace European Union laws that were retained after Britain left the bloc, his office said on Tuesday.

Legislation enabling the replacement of EU laws is due to be debated in parliament on Wednesday amid criticism from opponents that it could lead to a weakening of the social protections previously enshrined through Britain's EU membership.

The government says the bill is not about watering down standards, workers' rights or environmental protections, and instead aims to create a regulatory environment that drives economic growth.

The bill's most important provision automatically disapplies secondary retained EU law by Dec. 31, generating uncertainty for businesses and concern that the size of the task of replacing thousands of laws could swallow up government resources.

But asked if the government was sticking with the current deadline, Sunak's spokesperson said: "That's right".

A government dashboard listing identified retained EU laws (REUL) to be replaced shows the environment, transport and finance ministries alone have over 1,300 REUL between them, but there could be many more that have not been identified.

"Some of this work can be done and introduced quite quickly," the spokesperson told reporters. "Some will take more time to develop."

The government says the bill will "remove years of burdensome EU regulation", highlighting changes in approaches to gene editing for farmers and the regulatory approach to insurance that the government has announced.

But critics warn it creates massive amounts of work for departments with little benefit, empowers ministers to replace laws as they see fit and opens the door to weaker regulatory protections.

"Tomorrow the Retained EU Law bill comes back before us, which will see vital employment rights... scrapped at the end of this year if ministers do not act," opposition Labour lawmaker Justin Madders told parliament.

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by William James)