British unions to government: Don’t sacrifice workers in Brexit negotiations
Demonstrators, one dressed in a puppet head depicting Prime Minister Theresa May, pose near Parliament in London, March 13. The action was prompted by concerns that May is whipping MPs to endorse a 'blank check Brexit', as the vote on the House of Lords amendment of Article 50. | Kirsty Wigglesworth / AP

LONDON – The British Labour Party and trade unions warned Prime Minister Theresa May against seeking to use EU exit negotiations as an excuse to ditch laws that protect workers, consumers, and the environment as she kickstarts the two-year separation process today.

The Labour Party’s shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer attacked former Tory work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith yesterday following his call for a “radical root-and-branch” review of EU regulations.

Starmer said these “costly” regulations hated by right-wingers included basic workers’ rights, adding: “It is increasingly clear that rights and protections are seen by many senior Tories, including the Cabinet, as an ‘expensive’ luxury that British workers and consumers can do without.

“That is why one of Labour’s six tests for the Brexit deal is that it defends hard-fought-for rights and protections and doesn’t lead to a race to the bottom.”

Communist Party general secretary Robert Griffiths said leaving the EU must not become “an excuse for diluting people’s already meagre rights at work,” but said the left should set its sights on the opportunities the negotiations present.”

Referring to the section of the Lisbon Treaty that allows for unilateral EU exit, Griffiths said, “Triggering Article 50 opens the way to progressive policies outside the EU to control capital, raise public funds for infrastructure investment, enforce equal rights for migrant workers, and radically cut or abolish VAT.

“Such policies would remain unlawful if we stay in the single market.”

The government must also not lose sight of the three million EU nationals who live in Britain and one million British nationals living on the continent, campaigners have said.

Groups reminded May that she has to resist using people as “bargaining chips” in upcoming negotiations with 27 other EU nations.

Frances O’Grady, secretary general of the Trades Union Congress, Britain’s largest labor federation, said: “The best deal will guarantee that hardworking Brits keep their hard-won rights at work – and that in the years to come they won’t miss out on protections that Dutch, Spanish, and German workers get.

“The best deal has to protect good jobs, with decent wages, by keeping our trade free from tariffs and unnecessary bureaucracy.

“And it has to end the disgraceful uncertainty for workers from other EU nations who’ve made the UK their home. The Brexit deal will define Britain’s future for a generation. We owe it to ourselves and our children to take the time needed to get it right.”

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But Trade Unionists Against the EU’s Doug Nicholls saluted what he characterized as “a great day” for workers in Britain.

“Forty years of being controlled by those we don’t elect will soon be over, and we can rebuild a full-employment economy.”

Stand Up to Racism condemned the government for not making rock-solid promises over the residency rights of EU citizens whose families may be separated and whose jobs could be lost.

German national, teacher, and resident in Britain for 28 years Ulrike Schmidt told the anti-fascist group that her 81-year-old EU citizen father has already been questioned by border control officials as to how long he intended to stay in Britain and whether he wants to work here.

She said, “I wonder how many vulnerable people are getting targeted even before Britain has left the EU.”

Global Justice Now said that efforts should go into preventing the Prime Minister from having an “unprecedented” carte blanche to “pick and choose” from existing EU laws.

The group’s director Nick Dearden said, “We don’t have the luxury of sitting around and lamenting the fact that Theresa May has triggered Article 50. Using ‘Henry VIII powers’ could mean ministers making significant changes to important legislation without parliamentary approval – something which many countries would deem unconstitutional.”

This article originally appeared in Morning Star.


Lamiat Sabin
Lamiat Sabin

Lamiat Sabin is a news reporter and deputy news editor for Morning Star, the socialist daily newspaper published in Great Britain.