A blank cheque on Brexit is a blank cheque on workers’ rights

Theresa May wants a blank cheque on Brexit. But her threat of walking away with no deal isn’t just a threat to the EU. It’s a threat to our workers’ rights too.

A new report has warned that a hard Brexit could lead to a “race to the bottom” on workers’ rights and increase inequality. A scenario where the UK leaves the EU, leaves its single market and cuts existing regulatory ties with the bloc would “increase pressures on the UK to compete for investment” and “compensate for a whole range of shortcomings”. It’s a scenario Theresa May seems intent on pursuing.

Cutting workers’ protections could be one way the government compensates for reduced competitiveness from Brexit. The prospect isn’t that unrealistic. When May said she was prepared to walk away from Brexit negotiations with “no deal”, she also said she was ready to turn the UK into a low-tax and low-regulation haven to maintain competitiveness. And despite her promises that workers’ rights would be protected, this would not be enshrined in law once the UK leaves the EU. So even though this government has said that the Great Repeal bill would transfer the acquis of EU law into UK law, it would also enable the government to change them. And the fact we have a general election in a month’s time despite repeatedly saying she wouldn’t call one before 2020 also demonstrates how little we can take this prime minister at her word.

The report from the Work Foundation and commissioned by the TUC added that workers in low-skilled sectors were at the greatest from their rights being eroded. The Work Foundation found that people with temporary or casual work were also more at risk. In a statement about the report’s findings, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said “we’ve already seen the emergence of a low-skill, low-productivity economy that leaves many people trapped in dead-end jobs. Scrapping workplace protections, or gradually falling behind our European neighbours, would increase this trend”. She called on the next government to protect existing rights and to “guarantee a level playing field with the rest of Europe and in the future”.

The next government must get a deal with Europe that protects current rights, like paid holidays, equal pay, and fairness for agency workers.

And it must guarantee a level playing field with the rest of Europe now and in the future, so working people in Britain don’t fall behind our European neighbours.

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC

The bottom line of Britain leaving the single market is that it loses its competitiveness. Not just for business with the EU, which is the UK’s biggest trading partner by far, but also for business with non-EU countries wanting to access the EU market. This is best highlighted by a message to the UK and EU on Brexit from the Japanese government as reported by Business Insider. In its message, Japan noted that it had many businesses operating in Europe and that “nearly half of Japanese direct investment intended for the EU in 2015 flowed to the UK”. It warned that if Brexit led to their businesses facing difficulties, they would have to “relocate their operations from the UK to existing establishments in the EU”.

But Theresa May’s threats of turning the UK into a low-tax and low-regulation haven doesn’t just risk workers’ protections, it also risks environment protections and consumer protections. Her government hasn’t even taken the care to conduct an economic assessment on a “no deal” scenario. So even if the UK did become a low-tax, low-regulation haven, there is no reason to believe it will be enough to compensate what we lose from not being in the single market.

In calling a general election, Theresa May is asking us to simply trust her without opposition or scrutiny. She’s asking for a blank cheque on Brexit. But it won’t just be a blank cheque on Brexit, it’s a blank cheque on the protections currently provided to us from the EU.

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