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Analysis

PM faces wobbly balancing act over EU rights

by Luke Lythgoe | 01.02.2019

In her bid to woo Labour MPs, Theresa May is keen to prove that workers’ rights and environmental protections won’t be diminished after Brexit. She will find herself caught in a tricky balancing act.

Any promise to raise standards in line with what the other European countries agree will be useless unless backed up by a treaty. But if it is, Brexiters will be furious. What’s more, patriotic pro-Europeans will be unhappy that we’ve been turned from a rights-maker into a rights-taker.

May recognised this week that many MPs think “continuing protection of workers’ rights after Brexit is something that needs to be strengthened”. To show she’s listening, she has despatched her business and Brexit secretaries for talks with wavering Labour MPs and trade unionists.

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Passing legislation isn’t enough. Even if May is sincere, she probably won’t last long as prime minister. And no promises she makes can bind her successor.

But if EU protections are hard-baked into a treaty with the bloc, Brexiters would have to abandon dreams of a hyper-deregulated Singapore-style economy. May then have a mutiny on her right flank. Boris Johnson and his allies hate the idea of being locked into EU regulations.

On the other hand, most people quite like these regulations. They underpin workers’ rights, promote safe products, protect women and minority groups from discrimination, keep our rivers and oceans clean, and much more.

So the prime minister would do well to secure these rights. Much the best way to do this is to keep our place at Europe’s top table – and stay a rights-maker.

Labour MPs and trade unions who care about protecting workers, consumers and the environment should be campaigning to maintain our power inside the EU. Not falling for Tory promises.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

2 Responses to “PM faces wobbly balancing act over EU rights”

  • I can’t think of any laws (rules) that have come out of the EU that have been anything other than sensible. Forget the straight bananas rubbish which was a total fabrication. Forget laws on the cultivation of olives, which don’t grow in the UK. UK workers enjoy rights specifically enacted by the EU, including six weeks leave, maternity leave for fathers and the length of the working week. The so-called gig economy has driven a coach and horses through these rights and this promises to be the norm in the future. Norway doesn’t have too many problems being a “rule-taker”; if they did, they’d have left long ago.