On 2 February 2021, the government published a very short policy paper regarding the "Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform" or TIGRR for short. The policy paper introduces TIGRR as a way to: "consider all the options available…to stimulate business dynamism and innovation, ensure that our markets are open and competitive and that businesses can scale up unencumbered by any unnecessary administrative burdens". TIGRR will be chaired by Iain Duncan Smith MP.
When A.A. Milne wrote "…that icky, sticky stuff is only fit for heffalumps and woozles", Tigger was not commenting on (excessive) regulation being the favourite fodder of the EU institutions.1 However, since the creation of TIGRR2 is explicitly founded on the premise that being outside the ambit of EU law presents the UK with opportunities to amend the current regulatory landscape and "reignite the economy to help it recover from the impacts of Covid", TIGRR’s foundation does bear analogy with Milne’s famously bouncy character. The choice of acronym, unlikely to be lost on the Prime Minister Boris Johnson, might raise some eyebrows; after all, Tigger was positive and optimistic in outlook without foundation but, ultimately, unfocused and had no real reason to be so.
TIGRR's terms of reference are to "propose options for how the UK can take advantage of our newfound regulatory freedoms to deliver" on its aims. The paper identifies an indicative list of four particular categories of "opportunity" which its proposals might focus on: stimulation of innovation and commercialisation of new technologies; reduction of barriers to entry; reduction of administrative barriers; improvement of the regulatory experience for small businesses. TIGRR is also tasked with identifying sectors or regulatory frameworks to be prioritised for further consideration. However, the policy paper also talks about what TIGRR will not do: its remit does not extend to the government's broader economic growth and regulatory agenda, its approach to better regulation generally or departmental responsibilities in respect of regulation.
Otherwise, we are told TIGRR can be contacted at email@example.com; it will report to the Prime Minister in April; and it welcomes submissions on opportunities to drive growth and innovation through regulatory reform. That, for now, is it. A big job, with not much time to carry it out; TIGRR needs to be very bouncy indeed, or as Milne wrote, it has: "got a lot of bouncing to do! Hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo!"
In some respects, we have been here before. To give only a sample of the initiatives by successive UK governments in these areas over the last four decades (in roughly reverse chronological order):
Of course, what the above resumé of previous regulatory reform efforts ignores is that TIGRR is distinguished from them by the moment when it has come into being. In every previous large-scale search for regulatory dead wood, obligations that were thought to impose burdens on business but which flowed from EU law were off-limits. As the policy paper quoted above makes clear, TIGRR comes on the scene just at the point when the perceived strait-jacket of EU law has been removed.
The most recent publication to be entitled The Red Tape Challenge6 was not a government drive for better regulation, but the CBI's wish-list for the outcome of the negotiations between the EU and UK on their future relationship. However, the immediate post-Brexit transition period experience of many businesses has been one of dealing with more, rather than less bureaucracy.7 Much of this is the inevitable result of the fact that the UK is now in the EU's eyes a "third country",8 and there was little that an agreement of the kind the TCA was set up to be could do to address this. On the other hand, the negotiations that took place in 2020 undoubtedly did not deliver a number of significant items that were on the CBI's list, and that could, at least in principle, have formed part of the TCA.
Although the TCA is in some respects the beginning, rather than the end, of post-Brexit agreements between the EU and UK, in several cases there is no immediate prospect that further negotiations will deliver what the CBI was looking for (notably in relation to the services economy). With respect to the increased administrative barriers, despite the government's headline TCA claim of "tariff-free trade" between the UK and EU, even here there are additional barriers.9 In time, familiarity with export and import requirements will improve, and, as the political sensitivity of Brexit fades, the UK and EU may agree to some further flexibilities. However, in the meantime, businesses will have little chance but to make the best of it – TIGRR's remit does not extend to recommending re-opening the TCA agreement. TIGRR may be able to identify some possible regulatory improvements within GB, although the government will be acutely aware that any variance from EU standards may merely add to the difficulties for EU importers and UK exporters.
Politically, the need to show that a UK unbound from EU law can achieve "better regulation" gains is clearly acute. The pressure on government to demonstrate its willingness to exercise its new-found "regulatory freedom" is amplified by the fact that the ability to do things differently (after so many years of having to follow EU regulatory norms) was put forward as an argument in favour of Brexit by some of its supporters. Indeed, the UK government's negotiating objective of being free from EU law after 31 December 202010 has come at a price, namely increased friction in trade between UK and EU.
Hence the importance of TIGRR's quest – and, for that matter, of the missions of those bits of government with which TIGRR's work might overlap, but which we are told that TIGRR is not duplicating. The challenge that the Taskforce faces is to identify areas of potential reform that:
It is also worth bearing in mind that, even if the UK seeks to reduce regulation, that will not relieve UK operators who are targeting EU markets. For example, in the tech field, the Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act are currently trundling their way through the European legislative process. These are comprehensive regulatory reforms for digital platforms. These new pieces of legislation cannot have direct effect in the UK. However, UK online service providers and digital platforms need to comply where services are being provided to users within the EU, irrespective of the service provider's place of establishment. To avoid increasing the burden on UK service providers, it seems inevitable that the UK's framework will align with the EU's.
And reduction in data regulation seems unlikely. The recently-published National Data Strategy states clearly that the government is committed to maintaining high levels of data protection in the UK. This does not mean there will not be some elements of regulatory reform, with certain areas under consideration for review and simplification. However, the UK can only go so far. This is because the UK needs to ensure it obtains an adequacy decision from the EU Commission to make sure data can continue to flow from the EU to the UK unhindered. In doing so, UK data laws cannot diverge significantly from those set by EU law. This is a particularly sensitive issue. The Taskforce is due to report back to the Prime Minister in April – precisely when the EU is likely to be reaching a final decision on the UK's data adequacy post-Brexit.
TIGRR has a mission that has long been a twinkle in ministerial eyes. It has much previous work to draw upon but very little time to report – by April – on concrete proposals that can be implemented safely, do not clash with the rights of citizens and businesses, trade partners’ requirements or other government policy, and make a difference. That is a tall order or, as Milne wrote, would be quite "Some bouncing, huh?". It remains to be seen whether the results are lauded for unblocking some "icky sticky stuff" or greeted with a loud chorus of "Don’t be ridikkerous!".