Fears have been raised that Theresa May’s government “could rip up workers’ rights” after Brexit.
The warnings come after Brexit secretary David Davis sought to dispel what many arch Eurosceptics believe are the myths and falsehoods surrounding the UK’s future outside of the bloc.
He said there would be no “Mad Max-style dystopian world” of a “race to the bottom”.
But prominent Labour Remainers and union leaders believe plans are already well under way to redraw the employment landscape once the UK leaves the “protection” of European labour laws.
Chuka Umanna MP said: “David Davis insists that Brexit won’t mean a race to the bottom on everything from workers’ rights to environmental standards but not everyone around the Cabinet table agrees with him.
“Theresa May has repeatedly failed to rule out scrapping working time regulations, Boris Johnson wants to get rid of the Social Chapter and Liam Fox says he’s in favour of importing chlorinated chicken from the United States.”
Thread: David Davis insists that Brexit won’t mean a race to the bottom on everything from workers’ rights to environmental standards but not everyone around the Cabinet table agrees with him. 1/
— Chuka Umunna (@ChukaUmunna) February 20, 2018
And Frances O’Grady, head of the TUC, said: “As David Davis promises a ‘race to the top’ post-Brexit, his cabinet colleagues are chomping at the bit to slash workers’ rights. Government is clearly speaking with two heads.”
What has David Davis said?
Addressing Austrian business leader in Vienna, the Brexit secretary said: “They fear that Brexit could lead to an Anglo-Saxon race to the bottom.
“With Britain plunged into a Mad Max-style world borrowed from dystopian fiction. These fears about a race to the bottom are based on nothing, not our history, not our intentions, not our national interest
“But while I profoundly disagree with those who spread these fears — it does remind us all that we must provide reassurance.”
He also said trust was key to any future relationship with the EU – and sought to reassure critics there would be no mass deregulation or lowering of standards.
Is this view shared across the Cabinet table?
Theresa May’s Cabinet is known to be split over Brexit; some, like herself and her chancellor, Philip Hammond, are Remainers and while publicly pledging to deliver on the referendum result, want to see a deal which maintains close links to Europe – possibly even paying to stay in some form of customs union.
Others such as Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, Michael Gove, the environment secretary and international trade secretary Liam Fox are arch Leavers.
They have stated loud and regularly the need to break ties completely with Europe and forge new alliances with other world powers.
Johnson and Gove are said to be leading the charge to scrap EU laws which limit the working week to 48 hours – the working time directive.
Indeed, such are the divisions, that the prime minister is reportedly willing to lock her colleagues up all night when they meet on Thursday in order to – finally – arrive at a unified, united position on Brexit.
So, where does the PM stand?
When she took over from David Cameron, Theresa May said now famously: “Brexit means Brexit.”
And while that remains the case, she is known to want a far “softer” exit than many hardliners.
She has already managed to very nearly secure a two-year transition period following Brexit day in March 2019, during which the finer details of trading arrangements, financial service sector regulations and a mass of other rules and laws regarding workers’ rights, citizens’ rights can be resolved.
She has insisted there will be no watering down of employment rights – although other Brexiters have talked of a “bonfire of regulations” after Brexit.
May has said it was “impossible” for the UK to remain in the single market or customs union – but will do so for the transition period, possibly at a high cost.
Former Tory leader Lord William Hague warned that if she could not unite her Cabinet on a workable plan that satisfies the party: “If they fail to do so, the consequences are unknowable but might include the collapse of their administration.”.
What’s Europe’s take on all this?
Last year, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said it was “simply impossible” for the UK to adopt its own standards and regulations while also having them recognised automatically in the EU.
“You cannot be outside the single market and shape its legal order,” he has said.
He added: “But one thing is clear: The Single Market, the EU capacity to regulate, to supervise, to enforce our laws, must not and will not be undermined by Brexit.”