Brexit Has Forgotten About People
Who is Brexit for? A lot of people will be asking this question given the chaotic Brexit negotiations to date. For the majority, the Withdrawal Agreement that Theresa May has delivered, alongside the Political Declaration document, have not been worth the wait. The next two weeks will see a new stage in the Brexit political drama as Theresa May seeks to ram her deal through Parliament. Within these discussions about the political machinations we are losing the most important point - the impact on people. CLASS is running a series of blogs to correct this major oversight.
The Withdrawal Agreement is akin to building a bridge from where we were within the EU to a post-Brexit Britain. What we need is a strong and stable (!) bridge where we can see the landscape on the other side. What we’ve got instead is a bridge built at the last minute which is crooked, creaky, and at risk of collapsing. We also have very little idea of what’s at the other end. But, what, if anything can we decipher about the direction Theresa May wants to take us in?
Sometimes there is much more to be learnt from what isn’t given attention than what is. From our perspective the lack of attention paid to workers’ rights is incredibly worrying - especially as many in the Conservative government have been cutting ‘red tape’ and regulations on workers’ rights in the past. More generally, neither of the two government Brexit White Papers to date make a single mention of poverty or inequality in the UK.
On the flipside the attention paid to the backstop and commitment to ending freedom of movement means that May has put us on course to come out of the customs union and single market. The words “frictionless trade” are gone from the political declaration - a sign that we will be picking immigration over our economic health. No wonder the Brexit impact assessments consistently show that the economy will be adversely affected - but within this analysis we need to know more about who will lose most.
Theresa May has been keen to get business on board with her deal. Different business groups have reportedly been privately briefed, with the Confederation of Business & Industry (CBI) taking a clear position supporting the deal. News programmes have had panels with those speaking about impacts on business, politics in Westminster and the aggregate economy - but what about workers and the public? Trade unions - representing over six million workers - and those working on issues of inequality and poverty have been given very little airtime. This is not to say business impacts don’t matter or don’t end up affecting workers, but that we need to be looking at the issues from different perspectives, including that of everyday people.
Going forward we need to be vigilant that we, the people, are not forgotten; and that questions about regional impacts and the likely effects on different groups are not buried under those related to business. We’ll be doing some of this much needed analysis at CLASS over the next couple of weeks and, if the deal is passed, into the next stage of the Brexit process.