New Brexit minister Steve Baker has lobbied the government to weaken asbestos laws, Unite has revealed. The union says it is concerned by the minister’s ‘alarming’ position and is demanding that the government now provide ‘cast-iron guarantees’ that asbestos regulations won’t be watered down.

Much of the existing legislation, which bans the use of asbestos and controls how the substance is removed, is based on European Union directives. Unite says Mr Baker’s appointment raises concerns that when the Tory’s ‘Great Reform Bill’ becomes law, he will be able to use his position to weaken asbestos laws, bypassing effective parliamentary scrutiny.

In October 2010, in a series of parliamentary questions regarding asbestos, the Conservative MP asked the secretary of state for work and pensions: “If he will bring forward proposals to amend the provisions of the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002 to distinguish the white form of asbestos and the blue and brown forms of that substance,” also questioning: “If he will commission an inquiry into the appropriateness of the health and safety precautions in force in respect of asbestos cement.”

In a further question, Baker asked the minister if he would “bring forward proposals to amend existing regulations governing the safe use of asbestos cement…”.

Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “It is alarming that an MP who holds such extreme views on asbestos has been given such a sensitive position. It demonstrates the prime minister is more interested in appeasing hardline Brexiters, rather than the welfare of workers.”

The new Brexit minister has also pressed for a relaxation of the rules on “end of life asbestos cement sheets on farms”, citing John Hoskins, one of the global asbestos industry’s go-to experts (Risks 743), to support his contention.

Unite’s Gail Cartmail said: “Following these revelations it is essential that very senior government ministers give a cast-iron guarantee that the existing asbestos regulations will not be weakened or modified and the safety of workers will remain the priority.

“With thousands of people dying every year, directly as a result of being exposed to asbestos, the priority must be to ensure that the existing safety laws are adhered to and employers who ignore this life saving legislation are prosecuted and convicted.”