A leak over the weekend to the Financial Times of a memo confirms that Boris Johnson intends to water down workers’ rights in the post-withdrawal treaty negotiations.
The internal UK government memo on the consequences of the new Brexit withdrawal agreement replaces the word “adequate” with the word “appropriate” to describe mechanisms for enforcing common social, environmental, and labour standards after the UK leaves the EU.
This change of language, the note says, means it can now be argued that it is “inappropriate for the future UK-EU relationship” that disputes about commitments on employment and other areas such as the environment, tax and state aid should be subject to binding arbitration.
The memo contains a series of claimed negotiation wins from the Brexit deal renegotiation, weakening the scope and strength of Level Playing Field (LPF) commitments, a crucial element in a future UK-EU trade arrangement.
Prominent Labour MP Yvette Cooper accused Johnson of wanting to strip all protection for workers’ rights out of the deal.
So here’s the evidence. From the Government. The reason why Boris Johnson wanted to strip all the legal protection for workers rights out of the deal is really straight forward. It’s because he wants to be able to cut workers rights. https://t.co/xlrG6VTeUa
— Yvette Cooper (@YvetteCooperMP) October 25, 2019
According to the memo, “The previous Protocol applied wide-ranging LPF measures on a UK-wide bases as a response to UK access to the EU market through the single customs territory.
“The only level playing field provisions in the revised Protocol are those necessary to support the operation of the Single Electricity Market and state aid measures that affect trade between [Northern Irelaand] and the EU,” it says.
The title of the memo is “Update to EPSG (Economic Partnership Steering Group) on Level Playing Field Negotiations and is the first acknowledgement that changing the LPF commitments agreed by Theresa May was a specific aim of the PM’s renegotiation.
Theresa May’s 2018 deal, rejected by parliament on three occasions, included a range of specific enforceable common standards for the UK and the EU within the Withdrawal Treaty.
Some of these standards were related to EU law, others referred to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), International Labour Organisation and the Council of Europe. But these have all been removed, along with the backstop, and the only reference remaining in the overall deal is in the non-binding political declaration.
According to the BBC the memo “shows that within Whitehall, weakening these provisions was a key part of the renegotiation”.
However, on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Conservative Party chairman James Cleverly stonewalled the idea there was an attempt afoot to relax workplace rights or environmental protections. “We are making hard improvements on worker rights through an increase in the national living wage,” he said.
Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, said: “This deal gives no guarantee that workers’ rights will be protected or keep pace with improvements in the rights of workers across the EU”.
Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, accused the government of pursuing “a licence to deregulate” the economy in the future. He warned that after Brexit the UK might choose to follow other “economic models,” citing the US where the holiday entitlement was 10 days a year and companies “had far more power than the workforce.”