No guarantee of EU rights after Brexit

Jon Danzig |

An amendment by Labour to protect our EU rights and protections after Brexit has been defeated in the House of Commons.

The Labour front bench sought to amend the EU (Withdrawal) Bill to ensure that after Brexit, EU derived employment rights, environmental protection, health and safety standards and consumer standards can only be amended by primary legislation.

But the amendment was slimly defeated in the Commons on Wednesday night this week.

Ken Clarke was the only Tory to vote for the amendment.

(Ken Clarke is arguably the only true Tory left in the Conservative Party: the party that had previously applied for the UK to join the European Community; the party that joined the UK to the European Community; the party that practically invented the Single Market of Europe; the party that pushed hard for the expansion of the European Union. Where is that Conservative Party now?)

During the Commons debate, Mr Clarke warned that there are some Government ministers who are “not excessively fond of workers’ rights” and retaining them after Brexit.

The former Chancellor and pro-European asked why, if the Government did not intend to water down workers’ rights after Brexit, ministers were not prepared to enshrine this in the Bill by backing the amendment?

The defeat of this amendment means that after Brexit, government ministers will be free to keep, amend or scrap EU protections and standards at their will without the usual scrutiny of Parliament – i.e. ‘secondary legislation.’

Despite voting with the Government, the former Conservative attorney general Dominic Grieve – a strong Remain supporter – warned that laws protecting such rights will be brought to the “lowest possible status” in Parliament after Brexit.

Shadow Brexit minister, Matthew Pennycook, said that Labour had put forward the amendment to the bill to prevent secondary legislation being used by future governments to “chip away at rights, entitlements, protections and standards that the public enjoy and wish to retain” after Brexit.

He added that Labour wanted to ensure that retained EU law – on employment, equality, health and safety, consumer and environment – “is accorded a level of enhanced protection that it would otherwise not enjoy”.

But of course, this is the key to what Brexit is all about. Instead of getting our country back, we’re going to lose it. The ruling classes want Brexit because they don’t want the likes of us, ordinary people, having rights that get in the way of the rich making more money, and lots of it.

Those who also thought that Brexit meant our Parliament will get more sovereignty should think again. Our Parliament is losing sovereignty; they are giving it away, eroding our democracy and our current rights and protections, with the false pretence that this is what ‘the people’ want and voted for.

MPs in the Commons also voted down an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill put forward by Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas, by 313 votes to 295.

Her amendment sought to ensure that animals continue to be treated as sentient beings after Brexit in domestic law.

Under EU law, animals are currently recognised as being capable of feeling pain and emotion. But MPs voted to drop the inclusion of animal sentience into the Withdrawal Bill.

The Government argued during the debate that animal sentience is already covered by the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

But Farming UK reported the RSPCA as saying that this wasn’t the case. RSPCA Head of Public Affairs David Bowles said it was a “truly backward step” for animal welfare.

“It’s shocking that MPs have given the thumbs down to incorporating animal sentience into post-Brexit UK law,” Mr Bowles explained.

Mr Bowles added that the decision by Parliament “flies in the face” of the Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s pledge for high animal welfare standards post-Brexit.

“In the EU, we know that the recognition of animals as sentient beings has been effective in improving animal welfare across the region” he said. “If the UK is to achieve the Environment Secretary’s objective of achieving the highest possible animal welfare post-Brexit, it must do the same.”

During the debate on Labour’s amendment to ensure that EU rights and protections are protected after Brexit – known as ‘new clause 58’ – Shadow Brexit minister, Mr Pennycook, explained that a substantial part of UK employment rights is derived from EU law, and an even larger body is guaranteed by EU law.

“As such,” said Mr Pennycook, “key workers’ rights enjoy a form of enhanced protection.”

He added that, “Those include:

  • protections against discrimination owing to sex, pregnancy, race, disability, religion and belief, age, and sexual orientation;
  • equal pay between men and women for work of equal value;
  • health and safety protection for pregnant women, and their rights to maternity leave;
  • a degree of equal treatment, in broad terms, for the growing number of fixed-term, part-time and agency workers;
  • rights to protected terms and conditions, and rights not to be dismissed on the transfer of an undertaking;
  • and almost all the law on working time, including paid annual leave and limits on daily and weekly working time.”

Mr Pennycook warned that whilst the Government had promised to ensure that workers’ rights are fully protected and maintained after the UK’s departure from the EU, “in the absence of stronger legal safeguards, there are good reasons to be sceptical about that commitment.”

He reminded the Commons that, “Prominent members of the Cabinet are on record as having called for workers’ rights to be removed.”

For example, Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, had written that we need “to root out the nonsense of the social chapter—the working time directive and the atypical work directive and other job-destroying regulations.”

During the referendum, the then Minister for Employment, Priti Patel, called for the UK to “halve the burdens of EU social and employment legislation”.

The newest member of the Brexit ministerial team—Lord Callanan—has openly called for the scrapping of the working time directive, the temporary agency work directive, the pregnant workers directive and “all the other barriers to actually employing people.”

The LibDem Brexit spokesman, Tom Brake, interjected to make the point that the inventor, James Dyson, had also said last week that he welcomes the fact that leaving the EU means “he will be able to hire and fire people more easily.”

Mr Pennycook concluded the arguments for his proposed amendment by saying:

“We should not take risks with rights, standards and protections that have been underpinned by EU law.

“Hard-won employment entitlements, along with entitlements relating to the environment, health and safety, equalities and consumer rights, should not be vulnerable to steady erosion by means of secondary legislation outside of the powers contained in this Bill.

“In future, Ministers should be able to change the workers’ rights and other rights that came from the EU only through primary legislation, with a full debate in Parliament. On that basis, I urge hon. Members on both sides of the House to support new clause 58.”

But Conservative MPs spoke strongly against the amendment; indeed, all the proposed amendments to the Bill were lost last night, as one after the other the government managed to have them voted down.

Tory MP, Priti Patel, who lost her job last week as Secretary of State for International Development said, “Over the past 45 years, the European Communities Act 1972 has been the mechanism by which the sovereignty of this Parliament has been eroded, with more areas of law being taken over by the EU. The Bill puts all those EU laws, regulations and other measures under our control.”

Conservative MP, James Cleverly asked Ms Patel if she agreed that, “the implication that somehow Britain would be a horrible, ungovernable place were it not for the benign guiding hand of the European Parliament and European legislators is a massive insult not just to Members, but to every single person in the country?” She replied that was “an important point.”

Tory back bencher and leading Brexiter, John Redwood tried to offer reassurance:

“I have heard strong assurances from all parties that there is absolutely no wish to water down employment protections or environmental protections, and I see absolutely no evidence that anyone would try to do that,” he said.

“I am quite sure that, were they to try, they would soon discover that there was an overwhelming majority in the Commons, on the Government and Opposition Benches, of very many people who would say, “You cannot do that,” and we would have every intention of voting it down.” 

But Labour back bencher, a strong Remain supporter, Chuka Umunna, said it was important to have more than assurances to protect some of the vital rights that are currently protected in EU law. “In particular, we should protect their [current] enhanced status,” he said.

Mr Umunna made the point that during the debate, the Solicitor General and other Government Members were asking the House to give Ministers “the benefit of the doubt regarding these rights, particularly the employment law rights.”

He said, “We are being asked to give Ministers our confidence that they will protect these rights.”

But he warned:

“Since I joined the House, I have seen the Government – first the coalition and then the current Conservative Government – ride roughshod, unfortunately, over some of the vital employment rights that people enjoy.” 

However, at precisely 6:44pm the Commons voted 299 votes to 311 against the proposed amendment to protect the current status of EU protections and rights.

As Ken Clarke said during the debate, if the Government did not intend to water down workers rights after Brexit, why wasn’t the government prepared to back the amendment protecting those rights after Britain leaves the EU?

Isn’t it true that Parliament has just burnt our right to rights?


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