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Wed, 20 January 2021

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Labour MPs warned that Theresa May's worker rights vow 'not enforceable' ahead of crunch Brexit vote

Labour MPs warned that Theresa May's worker rights vow 'not enforceable' ahead of crunch Brexit vote
3 min read

Theresa May's "half-hearted" promise to protect workers' rights after Brexit cannot be enforced, Labour MPs have been warned.

The scathing verdict comes in a legal opinion sent to all Labour MPs by two trade unions ahead of Tuesday's crunch Commons vote on the Prime Minister's Brexit deal.

In a bid to win Labour backing for her embattled agreement, Mrs May last week unveiled a string of pledges designed to protect workers' rights after Britain leaves the EU.

She vowed that Parliament would be given a vote on whether to adopt future EU rules on protections for workers, and promised to hold talks with trade unions and businesses about any fresh changes.

"After Brexit it should be for Parliament to decide what rules are most appropriate, rather than automatically accepting EU changes," she vowed.

But in a legal opinion drafted for the TSSA and  IWGB unions, EU law barrister Aidan O'Neill warns Labour MPs that the proposal offers "no guarantee that future EU standards will be matched".

Mr O’Neill writes: "Brexit involves, in effect, a wholesale bonfire of the ‘vanities’, which this government evidently regards EU law rights to be.

"Even if it were proposed by the Government that it would seek to insert into any withdrawal agreement with the EU a legally binding commitment obliging the UK to match EU standards in terms of workers’ rights and other social protection, this is not an obligation which could be directly enforced or insisted upon by individuals before our courts, as it would be a matter of international law only."

The QC points out that no UK parliament can bind its successor, meaning a future government could rip up the Prime Minister’s pledge.

And he warns that Brexit will leave workers unable to take up cases with the European Court of Justice, which the unions say "have more pro worker interpretations” of rights than the UK legal system.

IWGB general secretary Jason Moyer-Lee said the opinion was a "damning indictment of the Prime Minister's non-offer last week".

He added: "Workers, and in particular the precarious workers the IWGB represents, need the full protection of EU employment law. The PM's half-hearted proposals don't come anywhere near that protection."

Meanwhile TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes warned Labour MPs not to "collude" with the Conservatives on Brexit.

"Our rights are not poker chips to be played with in the Conservative Brexit Casino," he said.

"Our rights are hard won and it's the duty of every Labour MP not to collude with the Tories to get rid of them.

"This clear expert legal opinion only goes to show that May's offer was never a serious prospect on workers' rights."


The warning came as Labour backbencher Peter Kyle said he had been told the party would back his Commons bid to secure a second Brexit referendum.

Mr Kyle - who has drawn up an amendment aiming to secure a fresh public vote - told the BBC's Westminster Hour: "[Shadow Chancellor] John McDonnell, on the phone to me today, has confirmed that the leadership is behind this and the front bench is behind this," Mr Kyle said.

Mr McDonnell on Sunday said Labour would be willing to back a Brexit delay for "as long as necessary".

But he made clear that the party would "do everything we possibly can" in Parliament to halt both Mrs May’s deal and a no-deal outcome before pushing for a second referendum.

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