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CLASS Panel Verdict on Brexit Commons Vote

Our expert panel reflect on what the historic Commons Brexit defeat means for workers, public services and EU nationals.


Even a modified version of Theresa May’s deal is unlikely to work for workers, says Simon Dubbins, Brexit coordinator at Unite the Union

The unprecedented scale of the government’s defeat on its EU Withdrawal Agreement demonstrated just how completely inept the government’s handling of the whole Brexit process has been.

Although the reasons for opposing it obviously varied hugely, from a trade union point of view the huge economic damage of not being in a Custom’s Union, and no guaranteed frictionless access to the single market, as well as the complete absence of legally binding guarantees for social and employment rights were key issues.

The failure to adequately guarantee no hard border on the island of Ireland was also another key factor for unions like Unite with substantial memberships on both sides of that border.

So despite Theresa May calling two major union leaders at the eleventh hour in a belated attempt to address concerns over labour rights, it was already clear there was absolutely no way any self-respecting trade unionist could have possibly supported this deal. 

Let’s leave on one side the insult of first talking to a couple of union leaders only a few days before the actual vote - this despite the labour movement’s repeated calls for all civil society to have been involved in the process from the outset. There were two major reasons why trade unions and Labour Party MPs saw the half-baked attempts for what they actually were. 

Firstly, the additional guarantees that May appeared to be discussing were only going to be contained within the political declaration – not the Withdrawal Deal itself, and would therefore be non-legally binding statements of intent only.

And secondly, the EU withdrawal Bill that became statute last year contains the so-called ‘Henry VIII’ powers giving Ministers the power to strike out EU legislation deemed unnecessary at the stroke of a pen without requiring a vote in parliament.

Trade unionists know what statements of intent that are non-legally binding usually mean in reality, and they know what Tory governments like to do with social and employment legislation if they can.

Looking ahead it is effectively impossible to see a scenario based on a modified version of the existing deal that would adequately address the employment rights issues mentioned above, or that would properly address the Custom’s Union or Irish border issues.

So if there is no General Election the long term protection of workers’ rights and jobs may well end up depending on keeping all options firmly on the table just as Unite, the TUC and Labour Party have argued.    


Brexit chaos is continuing to sideline other key issues, writes CLASS Director Dr Faiza Shaheen

The scale of the defeat that Theresa May and her government were dealt yesterday means that her deal is dead. Small tweaks here and there will not suddenly persuade swaths of MPs to vote for the current Withdrawal Agreement.

The political plots that will follow, and on-going uncertainty, means that even after two and half years of an almost exclusive focus on Brexit issues, Brexit chaos is far from over.

In the meantime, all of the other problems this country face will continue to be side-lined and, as a consequence, will worsen.

Sitting in green rooms before interviews I often get the sense that some commentators are enjoying the political drama - but the consequences for everyday people are real, and growing by the day. Recent news like a 50 per cent increase in serious crimes committed by those on parole, a cut of £7,000 in pensioner credits to poor elderly couples, and evidence that cruel welfare reforms have also cost the taxpayer have all gone under the radar as the media inevitably focuses on Brexit drama. And while we endlessly go around in circles, issues like homelessness, child poverty and knife crime will get worse.

And then there is the economy. Economic growth has already slowed considerably, investment has fallen and consumer spending is down.

The Conservatives like to say they are pro-business but their botched Brexit has been bad for business. Add this recent slowdown to the slowest recovery post-recession in history and one can only conclude that the Conservatives have a very poor record on the economy.

The only way Brexit will not result in more economic hardship is if we stay close to the EU, and this means dropping red lines like freedom of movement and instead committing to a customs union.

Theresa May has consistently made immigration her defining issue, so getting anything that looks like a Norway style agreement looks difficult. One thing is for sure, the longer this Brexit chaos continues the longer the people of this country will suffer the consequences of austerity; their suffering treated merely as background noise while the daily Brexit show goes on.


Where next for EU citizens’ rights? Asks Maike Bohn from the3million campaign representing EU citizens in the UK

After the government’s clear defeat by 230 votes the current Withdrawal Agreement has been rejected – and with it the agreement on citizens’ rights for the 3.6 million EU citizens living in the UK and the 1.2 million UK citizens living in the EU27 countries.

With 72 days until Brexit day, this leaves 5 million people in a precarious position. If the UK crashes out without a guarantee of their rights at midnight on 29 March 2019, they would lose their legal status overnight.

British citizens in the EU27 would be dependent on contingency plans in 27 different countries to secure their legal residence status. To date, some countries have set out what they propose to do, but legislation will need to be put in place to implement these proposals.

If no contingency plans are made, these citizens will lose their current right to live, work and study in countries they have called their home for many years. Their driving licenses will no longer be valid, and their car insurance will lapse. They will lose entitlement to social security benefits and all but emergency health care. 

In the UK, the new UK immigration bill would remove all EU-derived rights on Brexit day which could make 3.6 million EU citizens illegal, at the mercy of the Home Office and without valid immigration status.

They will have to apply for the less protected ‘settled status’ under UK immigration law within one of the most hostile and punitive immigration systems in Europe and lose family reunification and appeal rights.

Time is running out, and the best way forward, deal or no deal, is for the EU and UK jointly to commit now to honour the agreement already reached on citizens’ rights.

Unilateral solutions are not the answer. They cannot cover issues which require international coordination, such as healthcare, transfer of social security entitlements and aggregation of pensions.

Moreover, they place EU27 citizens in the UK and British citizens in the EU in a very vulnerable legal position as their status can easily be further undermined, at a time when the deteriorating climate between the EU and the UK may lead to a tit-for-tat reduction of rights.

The UK government has already reached agreements with the EEA and with Switzerland on citizens’ rights, and UK and EU27 citizens urgently need their rights similarly guaranteed by an international treaty.

Not only is it essential to agree and implement a citizens’ rights deal under article 50 now in case the Withdrawal Agreement fails, it would also avoid 5 million citizens remaining in limbo in case Article 50 is extended. They built lives, businesses and multinational families together and we need to ensure that they are not penalised for this.