Brexiteers Hard Right Agenda a Threat to Workers Rights
Has Theresa May survived? Perhaps - it is still too early to say, but what is clear is that while the Tories continue to negotiate between themselves on what Brexit actually means, our real negotiating partners in the EU27 are increasingly frustrated by the time wasted so far.
As the new Brexit White Paper is digested, the message from MEPs and the European Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, rings loud and clear. The government is still guilty of cherry-picking the customs arrangements, and current proposals are likely to be unworkable for Europe. One national ambassador told me that the proposals were a step backwards, when advances are needed.
We are at an impasse. Last week has also shown that there was no clear majority for anything kind of Brexit in Westminster: neither for stopping Brexit, nor for no deal or May’s Chequers deal. At this rate, we are destined to face months of continued turmoil. And now we have a new face in charge of our negotiating team.
Dominic Raab was brought in to replace David Davis at a time of division and chaos within the Conservative Party after caused by the Prime Minister suggesting that a softer Brexit may well be on the cards, which incidentally is the main reason why the former Brexit Secretary Davis resigned. But if we thought Davis, the former SAS reservist, was a bad omen for what awaits us come 29 March 2019 and beyond, then we need to brace ourselves for his replacement.
We mustn’t forget though that back in 2012 Raab, alongside other rising Conservative MPs who became prominent Brexiteers such as Priti Patel and Kwasi Kwarteng, published a hard-right manifesto titled ‘Britannia Unchained’ where they described British workers as “among the worst idlers in the world.”
The new Brexit secretary is a longstanding critic of EU regulations, particularly of the Working Time Directive, under which Member States are required to guarantee vital rights for all workers. The Directive sets a limit of 48 working hours including any overtime, a minimum daily rest period of 11 consecutive hours in every 24, rest breaks when working more than 6 hours, paid annual leave of at least 4 weeks per year and much, much more.
These rules are an integral part of Single Market regulation. EU rights have long acted as the last defence against certain domestic ideologues which call for the scrapping of the “red-tape” claiming it holds back UK business.
The UK’s labour market is arguably one of the most unregulated amongst the Union’s member states, allowing the gig economy to boom. Nearly 10 million Britons – roughly a third of the country’s workforce – are not in secure employment according to a study conducted by the GMB. Raab’s stated dream is to see deregulation intensified which could see the exponential growth in exploitation, taking us back to a Victorian labour market.
Staying in the Single Market and Customs Union, which is currently not on the cards for this government, is the only means of guaranteeing these basic rights long term and benefiting from future employments rights.
Dominic Raab’s first task as Brexit secretary was to deliver a statement about the government’s White Paper – a document produced before his tenure. It states that “existing workers’ rights enjoyed under EU law will continue to be available in UK law on the day of withdrawal.” A glimmer of hope? Not for long.
Through the EU Withdrawal Bill voted by the House of Commons last month, the government has secured Henry VIII powers. This means that after we leave the EU, the government can make changes to domestic legislation quickly, without putting it through parliament. This is an outright threat to parliamentary scrutiny. Whatever goes in writing now to sugarcoat the Brexit deal could easily be overturned by the government at a later date.
Also in a bid to curry favour with President Trump, Theresa May promised that UK-US deal would be “...an opportunity to tear down the bureaucratic barriers that frustrate business leaders on both sides of the Atlantic." It would seem that for all the spin, the PM is talking about our rights as workers, and her intentions are hidden in plain sight.
Brexit is personal. It’s about your rights at work. Decent workers’ rights aren’t a “burden of employment regulation”; on the contrary, they are vital for a sustainable economy and the litmus test of a humane society.
Hard Brexiteers have demonstrated this week that they are willing to throw the Good Friday Agreement under the red bus to achieve their ideological aim of a brutal no deal Brexit. The Labour movement must remain united behind Keir Starmer’s six tests for any Brexit deal, and reject any deal that doesn’t guarantee our employment rights long term.
The months ahead will be turbulent but we cannot be distracted. We must not allow Raab and his hard-Right friends to use their new positions to implement their regressive agenda.
By Jude Kirton-Darling, MEP for the North East in the European Parliament.