Lords begin voting on the Brexit Bill: The TUC’s view
Today and Wednesday, the Article 50 Brexit bill – known formally as the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill 2016-17 – will get its committee stage in the House of Lords. This is the stage where most of the voting will take place on specific amendments (although there may be more votes to come in both Houses of Parliament if any amendments are made this week.) The TUC campaigned in the referendum for the UK to remain in the European Union, because we believed this was the best way to protect working people’s living standards and workplace rights. However, we accept the result: our priority now is to ensure that as we leave the EU, protecting working people’s rights and living standards are central in the negotiations around the terms of exit and our future relationships both with the EU and the rest of the world.
Not all aspects arising out of the negotiations will be resolved in this Bill and the TUC will be briefing on these as they arise, including during the Great Repeal Bill debates in both Houses. Several issues have already been debated in the Commons and in the Lords, but no substantive concessions were made, and the Bill itself has not yet been amended.
In particular, attempts in the Commons to add clauses guaranteeing working people’s rights – including those set out in EU directives and European Court of Justice judgments – were ruled out of order, so we’ll press for measures in the Great Repeal Bill that do so. And we’ll be seeking a transitional period after the end of exit negotiations to protect those rights. And we’ll keep pressing the government for measures that will protect jobs and investment, and sustain and improve wages and living standards.
The House of Lords now has the opportunity to press for greater clarity on some issues and seek material changes to the Article 50 Bill. The TUC supports amendments seeking to:
Increase transparency and parliamentary scrutiny of the negotiations
We welcomed the judgment of the Supreme Court that required legislation in Parliament before Article 50 was triggered as it presented an opportunity for the Government to set out clearly how workers’ rights will be protected. We would support changes that ensure the government’s accountability as it negotiates, reports on progress and eventually presents the final deal.
The TUC believes that this ability to scrutinise the deal in detail should be used to ensure that the government commits not only to maintain employment rights and protections during a transitional phase before a new trade deal is agreed with our European partners, but also to ensure that workers’ rights in the UK do not fall behind those of workers in Europe in the future.
Guarantee the rights of EU nationals in the UK and of UK citizens living in the EU
The TUC, alongside most employer organisations and many politicians, has called on the Government to guarantee the right to remain for EU citizens currently living and working in the UK, addressing not only the insecurity and vulnerability that they currently face, but also the increasing evidence that UK businesses and public services would be threatened if they decided to leave or, at worst, were faced with removal. The TUC would want the same certainty to be given by the host country to UK nationals living in the rest of the EU.
People should not be used as bargaining chips in the negotiations.
Maintain the option of staying in the single market and the customs union
Although the government has set out its preference for leaving the single market and parts of the customs union, this should not bind negotiators if the best deal for Britain – economically or socially – would include continued single market membership. The government’s objectives should include maintaining a level playing field with the rest of Europe on key issues like rights for working people, consumer standards and environmental protections.
Secure a commitment to carry out impact assessments
The government should carry out impact assessments and explain how it will ensure that jobs in manufacturing and in services dependent on exports would be protected.
Ensure proper consultation of the devolved administrations
The TUC believes that the nations should be involved in scrutinizing the deal and would support giving statutory footing to the Joint Ministerial Committees. Particular attention should be paid to Northern Ireland and we would welcome a detailed plan for how we can keep an open border and frictionless trade with Ireland, in the context of the Good Friday Agreement. We will also be seeking clarifications of how the Government intends to consult with unions, business, civil society on the details of commitments announced.
Maintain our collaboration with European research agencies
The TUC believes that the UK should continue to collaborate with key European bodies, including especially Euratom, the European nuclear research agency, until a viable alternative can be found which protects Britain’s nuclear interests. Euratom membership should be treated separately from withdrawal from the EU. In the interim, continued cooperation and participation in the work of the Euratom agencies must be ensured.