TUC says PM must not rush EU deal at the cost of jobs and rights
Philip Hammond this morning and then Theresa May in the House of Commons sounded a lot nicer about the European Union than they have done since they discarded their Remain vote in the referendum just over nine months ago to embrace Brexit.
But getting a good deal for Britain’s working people will take a lot more than warm words, and it will take a lot longer than the two years the PM’s letter says she hopes it will.
The Prime Minister’s letter to EU President Donald Tusk was not only a lot more polite about the EU and its values than some of Mrs May’s cabinet have been over the last nine months. It also seemed to be moving towards understanding that this is all going to be very difficult.
But the letter is still wildly over-optimistic about how easy it will be to negotiate an acceptable exit from the EU.
And it still ducks many of the key issues for working people. Although the Prime Minister reiterated her promise that workers’ rights would be protected and enhanced, they aren’t even mentioned in her letter to Tusk.
And there are references to economic and security co-operation and hints about special treatment for the City, but nothing about social Europe.
Immigration is also hardly mentioned, although the Prime Minister indicates that she accepts cherry picking (i.e. the same trade access but with controls on free movement) is impossible.
The omission of free movement may, of course, simply be to avoid admitting that single market membership, jobs and living standards are being put at risk for no actual change in the number of EU migrants moving to the UK.
But the letter reiterates the government’s disgraceful position that EU citizens living and working in the UK and their UK equivalents in the rest of the EU are bargaining chips, even if they are now a priority.
That acceptance of no cherry picking is, no doubt, also a nod to Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s infamous reference to ‘having our cake and eating it’.
But at least the Prime Minister’s letter doesn’t specifically slap him down as explicitly as the Chancellor did on the radio this morning, where he specifically disavowed having one’s cake and eating it.
The letter also sounds emollient notes on the bill the EU will be presenting its departing member with, indicating that the UK will stay on Europe’s side in the fight against terrorism (and, implicitly, against Putin and Trump, not that either makes an appearance).
And there is a commitment to ‘work hard’ to avoid crashing over the cliff edge into a relationship governed by WTO rules, though no mention of ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’.
The Prime Minister’s letter does start to accept that completing the deal in the two-year time frame will be challenging at the very least, but it is still too optimistic, and does not acknowledge the desire in Europe to start with the divorce discussions and then move on to a new trade agreement later.
The Prime Minister writes of ‘implementation periods to adjust in a smooth and orderly way’ but not the sort of transitional period that many in unions and business consider essential.
As TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said this afternoon in response to the letter:
“The Prime Minister must take all the time needed to get the best deal for Britain – not just the fastest deal. British workers and British jobs are relying on it.
The best deal will guarantee that hardworking Brits keep their hard-won rights at work – and that in the years to come they won’t miss out on new protections that Dutch, Spanish and German workers get.
It must protect good jobs, with decent wages, by keeping our trade free from tariffs and unnecessary bureaucracy.
And it must end the disgraceful uncertainty for workers from other EU nations who’ve made the UK their home.
The Brexit deal will define Britain’s future for a generation. We owe it to ourselves and our children to take the time needed to get it right.”
Owen Tudor is Head of European Union and International Relations at the TUCSign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.