From the TUC

Brexit won’t save us from #TTIP: Our own government are part of the problem

13 May 2016, by in International

A common argument from the leave camp in the upcoming EU referendum is that Brexit could save us from the many negative impacts of the EU-US TTIP trade deal. But unfortunately there isn’t a quick way out. The truth is that outside the EU we would be facing the prospect of even worse trade deals and with much less voice to challenge them.

We should be clear that the UK government has been one of the most vocal advocates of TTIP since the start, actively pushing the deal further towards its current pro-privatisation and foreign-investor friendly form.

Indeed, just last week David Cameron batted off concerns about public services and deregulation that might be ushered in by TTIP and pledged his full support for the deal. Back in 2014 Lord Livingston, the then trade minister, wrote to the European Commission with a few other countries to try to make sure TTIP kept its Investor State Dispute Settlement provisions – the unaccountable international courts that allow foreign investors to sue governments for things like increases in the minimum wage.

Not all EU countries are so happy about a super-liberalising trade deal, however.

Last week the French government made clear that the deal needs to go further to protect regulatory protections and high standards, otherwise it will block TTIP altogether. Similar sentiments have been raised by politicians in Germany and Greece, among others.

France has also used its say in TTIP negotiations to push for more protections for important sectors. For example, they successfully got audio-visual services excluded from the TTIP right at the start of talks in 2013. They’ve also put in a reservation limiting foreign investors in health services.

A number of other governments have added reservations to protect health and social services regardless of funding in their countries. Cyprus has even put in a reservation to protect their hairdressers.

But due to its ideological belief in privatisation and free trade the UK government has to date failed to enter the same broad reservations for our own public services like the NHS, transport or education (much more on this here).

As workers, however, we have been able to push for changes to TTIP through our connections in the European trade union movement.

Europe-wide union pressure made the EU Commission acknowledge the need for effectively enforceable labour standards, make more negotiating texts public than ever before and rewrite the rules for ISDS. This doesn’t go far enough of course (we still have many concerns about the threats TTIP poses to workers rights and public services and democratic decision making to say the least) so we need to keep the pressure up. But if we’re outside the EU we can’t push at all.

If Britain left the EU, British unions and citizens would no longer be able to call for TTIP to entirely carve out public services, or be able to make these demands stronger by calling for them collectively with other unions across Europe, as we have been.

But (as Sam Lowe points out in the Independent) outside the EU Britain would still be likely to be bound by the terms of any eventual TTIP deal if we want to trade with the EU. So we would suffer any negative consequences no matter what.

Leaving the EU also won’t mean we escape the neoliberal approach of our own government towards trade deals. Leaving the current government (or an even more right wing one of Brexit Conservatives) to their own devices to remake our trading relationships with the world, would be likely to result in us forging even worse deals.

Just look at how the UK has been blocking the EU taking stronger actions against Chinese dumping of steel. It’s driven by their zeal to liberalise market rules and court countries like China for investment for our key industries and energy supplies, rather than providing the strategic government support required (as Tim Page has blogged previously).

Outside the EU, the Conservatives would be free to open our markets to limitless cheap Chinese steel, unrestrained by EU anti-dumping measures. This would have dire consequences for jobs and wages in steel communities that are already being pushed deep into crisis due to our government’s inaction.

As things stand, our best chance of stopping TTIP and of protecting our public services, workers’ rights and democracies from bad trade deals like TTIP is by staying in the EU and working with our European allies to fight for trade that delivers for working people, rather than private profit.

9 Responses to Brexit won’t save us from #TTIP: Our own government are part of the problem

  1. John Wood

    John Wood
    May 13th 2016, 12:26 pm

    And ironically, the UK leaving might well strengthen the hand of those resisting TTIP inside the EU, if one of its biggest backers is removed. They could end up with a better deal, just as we start making all our own worse ones.

  2. Jackie Manton
    May 14th 2016, 10:50 am

    This is food for thought. I’ve been leaning towards the left exit argument, and now I’m about 50:50 again. My main question is this, ‘why would unions be unable to cooperate with and support unions in EU countries from outside the EU? Why is solidarity not possible regardless of EU membership or non membership?

  3. Sean Geraghty
    May 15th 2016, 6:44 am

    Good to have a Pro-EU anti TTIP argument. This in or out vote seems perilous either way.
    The impression i get is that people will vote out purely for immigration reform. The labour government of blair/brown blew this open and are not trusted. The tories have been worse, and not been attacked for it.
    Why cant border control, registering of peoples movement in and out of the country and effective deportation of offenders, illegal immigrants etc. ?
    If immigration was properly dealt with and people knew this, they would arguably be more compassionate for people seeking refuge from warzones or other emergency situations.
    At present we are faced with these massive threats to our future TTIP, environmental disaster, fracking; yet these massively important issues will be decided by the public’s disgust with immigration policy of successive governments.
    It makes me despair.

  4. Rosa Crawford

    Rosa Crawford
    May 16th 2016, 9:40 am

    Thanks for the comment Sean. There is no denying immigration is one of the key concerns associated with the EU, although TTIP is not far behind in some quarters. We know from research and work with communities that the TUC has done that concern about immigration is importantly linked with concerns about undercutting and lack of services, which requires more government investment in things like health and schools and stronger enforcement of workers’ rights. Unions are calling for action against bad bosses using migrants (or young people, or women who can only work part time, or agency workers…the list of potentially vulnerable workers goes on) to undercut other workers. While the Brexit camp present leaving the EU as the solution to anxieties about migration, it would actually make it easier for bosses to exploit workers because so many of our rights at work are underpinned by EU law. You might be interested in this piece from the TUC General Secretary on these issues last month:

  5. Rosa Crawford

    Rosa Crawford
    May 16th 2016, 11:05 am

    Thanks for your comments Jackie. Of course the labour movement is international by its very nature and a great deal of our work on trade deals (as well as many other areas) involves work with unions from outside the EU. In the case of TTIP, the TUC is working closely with our equivalent in America, AFL-CIO.
    Being part of the EU means unions in the UK have additional power to influence trade deals through our membership of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). The European Commission directly engages with the ETUC on all trade deals it is negotiating on behalf of EU countries, which has enabled the ETUC to raise concerns that unions in the UK, and its 88 other affiliated unions from across the EU, have with TTIP. This has resulted, among other things, in the Commission acknowledging the need to reform ISDS and have enforceable labour standards in the deal, as I mention in my piece.

    The ETUC has also raised unions’ concerns through its engagement with a number of other European Union bodies, for example, the European Parliament – which will have a say on whether TTIP is ratified or not. The European Parliament passed a non-binding but important resolution on TTIP last year which called for a number of trade union demands, including the full exclusion for public services from TTIP, regardless of how they are funded, see:

    While this doesn’t go far enough to address our many concerns with TTIP, if we were not part of the EU, workers would lose these important points of engagement that allows us to pressure for our concerns in the deal to be addressed.

  6. Boris Eubanks
    May 16th 2016, 2:04 pm

    With all due respect.

    What an absolute load of nonsense. Everything in this article is pure scare tactic speculation. With nothing mentioned here founded in or presented as fact. Because the facts are contrary to everything written in this article.

    I think,

    “Written by Rosa Crawford
    I’m a Policy Officer in the International Relations and European Union Department dealing with issues around trade, migration, ethical supply chains and South and East Asia.”

    speaks for itself.


  7. James Baker
    May 17th 2016, 9:41 am

    Workers rights in Norway are far better than in the EU, including Britain.

    In a democratic Britain outside Europe, employees could achieve the same superior workers rights that norwegian workers enjoy.

    The TUC seems to be campaigning for the employers views on a Brexit and are certainly
    not mentioning the lack of democracy in the EU

  8. Rosa Crawford

    Rosa Crawford
    May 18th 2016, 11:18 am

    Hi James, the TUC is campaigning to protect the jobs, decent pay and workers’ rights that come from our membership of the EU. See here for more details:

    Given that the UK government is significantly to the right of that of Norway and has pursued dangerous anti union legislation like the Trade Union Act, UK workers would be faced with the danger that many of their rights would be reduced, rather than increased, if Britain voted to Leave.

    Furthermore, Norway is still in the EU single market so still bound by its rules but has no say in them, including trade deals the EU negotiates that look like bad news for workers like TTIP. We don’t know kind of relationship the UK will negotiate with the EU if Britain votes Leave but it is likely that any kind of deal will involve accepting the terms of EU trade deals, so the UK would be in a similar situation.

  9. Don’t risk the NHS in the #EUreferendum
    Jun 9th 2016, 9:30 am

    […] – and especially on the NHS. That’s not something we’ve forgotten about – far from it, the threat from TTIP and other trade deals has not gone away. But our view, on balance, is that our members, the public […]