The issue of what happens to workers’ rights has become a central plank in the Brexit debate as MPs prepare to vote on whether to accept Boris Johnson’s deal with the EU in Parliament.
Yesterday, the prime minister announced that the UK and EU had agreed “a great new deal” for Brexit, but he still needs to secure the backing of a majority of MPs in the House of Commons tomorrow.
When rights go in the European Union, they’re gone for good. They become more or less unalterable” – Graham Stringer MP
The Democratic Unionist Party said it is unable to support Johnson’s proposals, which means the government is in even greater need of votes from opposition parties.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “It seems the prime minister has negotiated an even worse deal than Theresa May’s, which was overwhelmingly rejected. These proposals risk triggering a race to the bottom on rights and protections: putting food safety at risk, cutting environmental standards and workers’ rights.”
Of particular concern to the opposition is that guarantees on workers’ rights, which were part of previous legally-binding withdrawal agreements, have been moved to the political declaration.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4, shadow chancellor John McDonnell said: “This is all about deregulating our economy and in particular deregulating the rights that we have at the moment… We have a Tory government and we know what they’re up to.
Brexit deal or no-deal
“People aren’t gullible about this… [The Tories have] attacked trade union rights. This will give them a window of opportunity now of undermining workers’ rights in this country and impoverishing working people and we’re not going to let that happen…
“Boris Johnson and the Tory MPs that now populate the cabinet, these are the extreme right who’ve attacked trade unionists throughout their political careers. You cannot allow them to have these powers.”
Dominic Raab, foreign secretary, denied watering down workers’ rights. “The argument that’s made is that in the political declaration, which is the arrangements which will govern the future relationship, we haven’t pegged the UK automatically and undemocratically to be aligned to a whole set of rules made in Brussels.”
We haven’t pegged the UK automatically and undemocratically to be aligned to a whole set of rules made in Brussels” – Dominic Raab
He told the BBC that the government had been clear saying it was committed to having the “very highest standards, whether it comes to the environment or social policy, and I think it’s right that elected members of the House of Commons are accountable”.
Graham Stringer, a Brexit-supporting Labour MP, described Boris Johnson’s deal as a bad deal but said he would consider voting for it to avoid no Brexit. Speaking to the Today programme, he said he did not trust the EU because it had “on many occasions” undermined workers’ rights, including the minimum wage and the definition of a trade dispute.
“I don’t trust the EU any more than I trust the Conservatives. The basis of wanting to be a country independent of EU regulations is that we can make the decisions ourselves as a country. And the Conservatives may well… change the rights of workers but at least we will have the possibility as a Labour party and a trade union movement to put those back as we have done before.
“When rights go in the European Union, they’re gone for good. They become more or less unalterable.”
MPs vote on Saturday in a special sitting of the House of Commons on whether to back Johnson’s deal.