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Fri, 7 August 2020

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Frances O’Grady: The Government has failed on Brexit. If parliament votes down this deal, the people must have their say

Frances O’Grady: The Government has failed on Brexit. If parliament votes down this deal, the people must have their say
3 min read

MPs shouldn’t be bullied into voting for something that puts their constituents’ jobs and rights at risk. The government must extend Article 50 – and the people must have their say, writes Frances O’Grady


In the two years since the referendum, trade unions have been clear that any deal with the EU would have to guarantee working people’s jobs and rights. Theresa May’s deal doesn’t meet those tests. It doesn’t deliver for working people. And we don’t think MPs should vote for it.

We know it will be bad for jobs – the Government’s own impact assessments show that settling for any free trade agreement would deliver a hammer blow to the economy. But because this is a blindfold Brexit, we have no way of knowing just how bad things could get.

This deal also presents a serious threat to our rights at work. What working people need is a long-term, binding and enforceable guarantee that UK rights at work will keep pace with those across Europe. But under this deal, even during the transition period or under the backstop, British workers’ rights would start to fall behind improvements in the rest of Europe.

And post-transition, the deal leaves the door open for extreme Brexiteers who want to strip away the protections we already have. Because whatever the Political Declaration ends up saying, it’s still legally non-binding. So as far as working people are concerned, it’s not worth the paper it’s written on.

Already, we’ve seen hard Brexiteer Tories fighting back against any attempt to insert stronger language on social rights, openly rejecting the idea that British workers should get the same rights and protections as their European counterparts.

Senior Conservatives are trying to convince the Prime Minister to go back to Europe and ask for an even weaker version of the Withdrawal Agreement, one that would leave working people even more vulnerable.

We’ve warned all along that some aggressively right-wing MPs see Brexit as a golden opportunity to halt any progression of workers’ rights in this country, and to hack away at the rights working people already have – like our right to paid holidays or safe limits on working hours.

If these hard Brexiteers were to form a government, there would be nothing to stop them ripping up the Political Declaration and pushing for a free trade agreement that undermines our hard-earned livelihoods and rights at work.

So, this deal isn’t good enough for working people, and MPs shouldn’t be bullied into voting for something that puts their constituents’ jobs and rights at risk. “My deal or no deal” isn’t a real choice, and as a threat it’s already losing credibility. Mrs May’s own ministers know that we can – and must – find another option.

But this government simply can’t be relied upon to achieve something better. They’ve had two years to deliver on their promises to working people and they’ve failed. The Prime Minister has lost control of her own party, and she’s lost control of parliament. Working people must not pay the price for this chaos.

So as a first step, we’re calling for an extension of Article 50. That’s the sensible way to buy us time to figure out a real alternative. Because if we get the wrong Brexit, working people will bear the cost, now and for decades to come.

And let’s be clear what should happen next. If parliament votes down this deal then, one way or another, it’s time the people got their say. That means we need a general election or a popular vote on the deal. 

Frances O’Grady is General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress

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