It’s now clear, without a shadow of a doubt, that Boris Johnson is pursuing a Brexit that will be devastating for working people. Whether through a catastrophic no deal, or a hard-right Tory deal along the lines of what he proposed last week, his government is aiming for the hardest possible Brexit. And if they succeed, working people will pay the price.
The plans the Prime Minister unveiled last week are highly unlikely to lead to a deal. But they do indicate the kind of future this hard-right government wants – and it’s a grim picture. The trade union movement has been clear all along that any Brexit outcome must protect jobs, rights and peace in Northern Ireland. Theresa May’s deal failed these tests, and the current proposal is even worse. The government is openly signalling its intention to deregulate the economy and tear up our rights at work.
Divergence from single market rules would immediately put vital protections at risk. Rights that really matter to working people, like paid holidays, rights for part-time workers, time off for working mums and dads, equal pay for women and safe limits on working hours.
These hard-won protections have made life better for millions of people and they’re all guaranteed in EU law. Currently, no Tory government can take them away on a whim. And workers can defend their rights by taking cases to the Court of Justice of the European Union.
Without that level playing field, it would be much easier for dodgy employers to divide and rule. Of course unions would fight back. But a hard-right government could tear up our hard-won universal rights overnight, and the effects would be felt for generations to come.
Theresa May’s deal contained a weak and non-binding commitment to maintaining a level playing field on workers’ rights. But reports suggest even that has been abandoned by the current government. That’s a clear statement of intent: Johnson is coming for our rights at work. And he’s not the only shameless populist with an interest in this agenda. These proposals would clear the way for a grubby trade deal with the US, and for Donald Trump to get his hands on our NHS.
After three years of Tory Brexit chaos, I understand that people up and down the country are frustrated. But hurtling out of the EU and hoping for the best simply isn’t an option. Anyone who thinks they can negotiate decent protections for workers with this government is on a fool’s errand.
Over many years, the hard-right Tories now occupying the cabinet have shown their appetite to attack workers’ rights. For them, Brexit has always been an ideological project. A way to achieve a low-tax, low-regulation Britain that works great for hedge fund managers but offers nothing for working people.
We can’t trust them on workers’ rights. We can’t trust them to safeguard the Good Friday Agreement. And we can’t trust them to safeguard good quality jobs in the parts of the country that need them most. Only yesterday, Nissan – which supports 30,000 UK jobs – warned that a no-deal would put its entire EU operation in jeopardy.
Johnson and his wealthy mates may think they can afford an economic shock. But working families can’t. Their household budgets are already stretched to breaking point, and can’t take big increases in the price of food and fuel.
MPs must do all they can to ensure that we don’t leave the EU on this Tory government’s terms. That means opposing these reckless proposals and continuing the fight against crashing out. The Prime Minister must obey the law and stop trying to force through a disastrous no deal, so we can find a real solution to the Brexit crisis that delivers for working people across the UK.