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Brexit Talks Threaten to Sell Workers Jobs to the Lowest Bidder

Government mismanagement of Brexit would be hilarious if it wasn’t so desperately serious. One year on from the triggering of Article 50, the Government’s handling of the process has been like watching an episode of Laurel and Hardy.

Witness Theresa May, her cabinet, and backbenchers all arguing like cats in a bag, and stumbling haplessly and directionless from one phase of the negotiations to the next. This is a Government out of control. After a year, we are no clearer about what Brexit will mean for Britain.

GMB polling has shown that our members are feeling insecure and uncertain about their jobs and rights, and with good reason. “Brexit means Brexit” means nothing. It is time for the Government to move from vague catch phrases to telling us what Brexit will really mean.

Instead, ministers have ducked and dived for a year on publishing impact assessments – regionally and sectorally – so we can see and prepare for what lies ahead on leaving the EU.

The UK’s negotiating position continues to baffle EU negotiators as well as people across Britain, and their inability to resolve crucial issues relating to Northern Ireland and the border is telling.

Following the referendum, GMB’s priority has been to ensure our members do not pay the price for Brexit with either their jobs and economic security, or their employment rights and conditions. The Government is testing us daily in this challenge.

As the EU Withdrawal Bill works its way through Parliament, we see promises made in one hand, taken away with the other.

Bold assurances from the Prime Minister that our workers’ rights would not only be maintained but improved, was hard for many of us to believe a year ago. Now we see their vulnerability, where Henry VIII clauses in the Bill can amend or repeal these rights without Parliamentary scrutiny.

Gove and Johnson have openly admitted that, for them, ending these rights was one of the attractions of Brexit - a view shared by many on the Conservative side. Let us not forget that attacking Working Time and Agency Workers rights was one of their past manifesto commitments.

Commitments that powers returned from Brussels would be passed on to devolved administrations has instead resulted in a blatant attempt to undermine the already established devolved powers of the administrations, which will not end well if not quickly resolved.

The Government’s trade policy is a further example that those who dreamed of taking back control are going to be disappointed. The two related Bills – the Trade Bill and Taxation (Cross Border Trade) Bill leave UK manufacturing and wider industries highly exposed to unfair competition in global trade.

These proposals were published only hours after the consultation deadline, showing contempt for those of us who submitted detailed and critical responses to the Government’s plans. Trade defence and remedies measures in the proposals are nowhere near robust enough to protect and promote British based industry.

GMB is currently working closely with a group of manufacturing federations to urge Government to strengthen measures before it is too late.

Liam Fox’s approach to trade shows us that Brexit is nothing to do with taking back control and everything to do with sacrificing UK jobs and manufacturing to the lowest bidder. If we needed any proof of that, the Government’s recent howler of an own goal in giving the contract for future UK Blue passports to a French producer tells us all we need to know.

It is time for Theresa May to reset the direction of its future trade policy and wider approach to Brexit away from their neoliberal unfettered free trade agenda, and instead focus on delivering a post Brexit future that benefits the many, not a few big corporations in a major corporate and Government power grab.

 Kathleen Walker Shaw is European Officer, GMB Brussels

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