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UK consumers vulnerable to 'rip-offs' over post-Brexit legal loopholes

Lucy Harley-McKeown
·2-min read
Conservative party MP John Penrose. Photo: Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters
Conservative party MP John Penrose. Photo: Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters

A new, wide-reaching, report on competition in the UK has said that the government should introduce sweeping reforms in order to boost the economy and protect consumers post-Brexit.

The Penrose report, led by Conservative MP John Penrose suggests there are "important gaps" in Britain's post-Brexit legal framework which would allow consumers to be "ripped off."

In September 2020, Penrose was invited by the government to conduct an independent review of UK competition policy. The report is intended to set out proposals to boost competition to benefit businesses and consumers across the UK.

“A free-trading, global post-Brexit Britain should aim to have one of the best competition and consumer regimes in the world,” Penrose said

The report, published on Tuesday, suggests this could happen with regards to loyalty penalties and price discrimination, where people are charged different prices for the same things.

It also says there could be rip-offs hidden in the small print of long and complicated contracts that no-one has time to read.

READ MORE: UK competition regulator could stall eBay's £6.5bn sale of Gumtree to Adevinta

The report says that each of these rip-offs is an analogue-era problem which is mutating and growing as the economy digitises, so our current rules need to be updated to "stay future-proof."

Consumers and businesses alike have already been hit with costly red tape following the end of the Brexit transition period, complaining of hold ups and new import fees.

The report emphasises the government's role in reducing these, saying: "The government should make cutting red tape costs into an automatic burden reduction process, with a revived and stronger Better Regulation regime."

Recommendations for that include reinstating the gateway condition, so ministers and regulators must first remove or modernise old rules before they can introduce new ones.

It says the government should also increase the ambition of the regime’s target from "one-in-one-out" to "one-in-two-out," so we are moving forward rather than (at best) marking time.

READ MORE: 'All pain, no gain:' Brexit costs and red tape vex UK firms and shoppers

It also advises including all forms of government and regulator rule-making in the new process, "with no exceptions."

Kwasi Kwarteng, business secretary, said: “The UK’s competition laws and institutions are highly regarded across the globe. However, as we build back better from the pandemic and start life as an independent trading nation, we have a golden opportunity to strengthen that reputation.”

WATCH: 10 ways to Brexit-proof your finances