The tolerable cost of European Union regulation: leaving the EU and the market for politically convenient facts

Gary Fooks*, Tom Mills

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


European Union (EU) law-making has played a key role in promoting social equity in the UK through safer working conditions, enhanced rights for workers, and by reducing environmental pollution. Concerns over its effect on business competitiveness have long been a major driver of Euroscepticism, underpinning criticism of the EU by influential opinion formers within British conservatism. The Leave Campaign argued that EU laws damage the UK economy by imposing unnecessary costs on British business, claiming that EU regulations cost the UK economy £33.3 billion per year. This paper examines the reliability of, and assumptions that underpin, aggregated estimates of the costs and benefits of EU-derived regulation, and considers how the economisation of public policy influences understanding of the social value of regulation. It brings together the findings of studies that have evaluated the accuracy of the estimated costs and benefits in formal impact assessments and analyses impact assessments of EU-derived policy instruments aimed at regulating working conditions. Our findings suggest that aggregated estimates represent poor guides to understanding the social costs and benefits of social regulation and highlight the value of discarding impact assessment estimates of costs and benefits in the context of efforts to shape social policy post-Brexit.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)719-743
JournalJournal of Social Policy
Issue number4
Early online date20 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2017

Bibliographical note

© Cambridge University Press 2017. This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


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