From the TUC

Putting working people first in the Brexit plans: we’re ready to talk

26 Jan 2017, by in International

It’s a bit of a risk, writing a blog about where we are in the Brexit negotiations saga. Events often move with astonishing speed: so on top of last week’s Lancaster House speech by the Prime Minister, this week has already seen the Supreme Court’s decision (full judgment & summary) on whether Parliament or the Prime Minister has the power to trigger Article 50 and fire the starting pistol on the Brexit negotiations; and the Prime Minister’s concession that there will be a White Paper setting out the Government’s plans for the negotiations. And in the remainder of the week we’re expecting the trigger Bill to be published; and the Prime Minister’s meeting with President Trump, which is expected to focus on the prospects of a UK-US trade deal.

The TUC welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision on Tuesday that the prerogative to change UK law in such an important way as giving formal notice of the intention to leave the EU should lie with Parliament rather than the PM. And we urged the Government to give more details about how it would make sure that working people would not pay the price for leaving the EU, and how workers’ rights would be protected. Frances O’Grady said:

“The Prime Minister has only given a list of Brexit priorities, and we are still waiting for the details of her plans.

Before voting to trigger Article 50, MPs must demand a clear plan from Theresa May on how she will protect working people from paying the price for Brexit, and make sure their workplace rights do not fall behind those in the EU.”

She also called for detailed proposals on how the UK’s devolved governments would be engaged in the negotiations, and a full plan for how we can keep our common travel area with Ireland. Our colleagues in the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, representing working people north and south of the border, had earlier expressed concerns similar to ours about the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech. And we will continue to press for tariff-free trade in goods and no obstacles to trade in services, as well as the right to remain for EU citizens already making a contribution by living and working in the UK.

On Wednesday, the Government conceded on calls from all parts of the political spectrum when the Prime Minister agreed to publish a White Paper on the Brexit negotiations, and we have urged the Government to consult with the TUC ahead of the publication of the White Paper over the detail of the promises the PM had given in the Lancaster House speech (and again at Prime Minister’s Questions) to protect working people’s rights.

We continue to be concerned that the promises regularly reiterated by Ministers are not firm enough for working people to rely on, and would, in fairly short order, let workers’ rights in the UK fall behind the rights enjoyed by working people around the rest of the EU. The most obvious concern is that the promises will be as solid as the promise of workers on boards made in Theresa May’s campaign to become leader of the Conservative Party and therefore Prime Minister. Philip Hammond’s aside to a German newspaper a fortnight ago that without a good deal with the EU after Brexit, Britain would become an offshore tax haven and deregulated sweatshop, has now become the Government’s official Plan B. We’re obviously worried that one element of that deregulation would be our rights!

Other issues which could affect whether we fall behind the rest of Europe include: what the Great Repeal Bill will say about the nature of parliamentary scrutiny needed to revise the EU laws that we have been told will be – initially at least – written into UK law; the impact of no longer being able to take cases to the European Court of Justice, which has done a lot to ensure the spirit of working time laws and equality provisions are implemented in the UK; and whatever our trade union colleagues manage to secure under the new European Pillar of Social Rights and other initiatives to improve workplace protections after we leave the EU.

Taken together, there is every chance that if we just rely on the rights we have now, we will fall significantly behind our European neighbours in terms of rights at work. The Government needs a plan to make sure this doesn’t happen and, in the words of Theresa May’s speech to her Party Conference:

“we’re going see workers’ rights not eroded, and not just protected, but enhanced under this Government.”

We’re ready to talk.