May’s deal would make it difficult to nationalise utilities and fix manufacturing

Theresa May's deal would make Labour's policies difficult to deliver

Now that the smoke is clearing and the mirrors are apparent, it is ever more obvious that neither Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement nor the accompanying wafer-thin ‘sweeteners’ for MPs considering supporting the deal are in the interests of working people.

With all the media attention focused on the bangs and whistles of new funds and promises, little attention has been given to some of the most pernicious elements of May’s deal from an industrial policy perspective.

While rightly securing the future of the Good Friday Agreement, the government have used the opportunity to beef-up competition rules going beyond today’s EU rules.

The proposals would make it very difficult for a future Labour government to implement a progressive manufacturing agenda or renationalise key public utilities – both of which would be possible as an EU member state in the future.

Competition law experts have confirmed that Labour’s 2017 manifesto promises would be entirely possible within current EU rules, while IPPR research shows that other EU member states consistently outspend the UK on state aid.

In contrast, according to the Backstop Protocol’s Annex 8, negotiated by May, state aid and competition law rules will be applied in a more draconian fashion than they currently are in the UK as a full EU member state.

Meanwhile, the Competition and Markets Authority will essentially have enhanced powers to be the European’s Commission’s ‘attack dog’, and no doubt will be allocated the resources and space to pursue its own agenda.

Furthermore, in comparison with EU law currently, the Protocol also entrenches ‘soft law’ in this area which would make it even harder for a Labour Government to reverse privatisation and support postal, transport, water and other sectors in the way that we want.

Labour’s radical manufacturing agenda would also face significant hurdles as Articles 1 and 2 of the Protocol make it crystal clear that we may be tied into the Backstop for many years or indefinitely while all aspects of the ‘future relationship’ are negotiated in a piecemeal way to the satisfaction of the EU.

Collectively this means that a Labour government would be unable to take action on legislation or initiatives in a large range of areas, including on subsidies or taxation and developing a new industrial policy, without potentially facing complex and lengthy legal battles with the European Commission.

These provisions should be compared with the smokescreen on workers’ rights presented by the government this week.

There is no backstop for workers’ rights, ensuring UK workers’ rights keep pace with their EU counterparts, as called for by the Trade Union Congress.

The latest announcement for the Government on protection for workers’ rights are worthless. It will not prevent rights deriving from the Working Time Directive or other key EU law measures being watered-down or removed.

It is uncomfortable to say but in my 20 years’ experience working on EU employment rights, the UK government has consistently been a brake or opposition to EU worker rights, with Tory MEPs regularly speaking and voting against them.

These provisions expose the hypocrisy of the current Tory government, who are keen to bind future governments on competition rules while leaving their hands free to attack rights at work in the future.

Rather than taking back control, this is a loss of the freedom and rights we currently have within the EU.

The Stronger Towns intiative is the £1.6bn ‘bribe’ for poorer towns. Its resources are inadequate though and both this, and today’s announcement on workers’ rights are meant to respond to concerns about deindustrialisation and precarious work raised by Labour MPs representing Leave constituencies.

Those same Labour MPs should not find themselves in the perverse situation of allowing an international treaty to become law restricting manifesto promises on which they were elected.

Labour must continue to oppose this bad Tory Brexit deal – there is no majority in Westminster for No Deal and therefore, May’s deal must be contrasted with our deal today inside the EU. It fails to meet the test for workers, our public services and manufacturing industries.

Jude Kirton-Darling is a Labour MEP representing the North East of England.

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