The Brexit threat to workers’ rights is real

No-one should be fooled by the government’s claim that they will leave intact the workplace rights that we have agreed at European level and which are currently enshrined in EU legislation.

The first clue about their true intentions is to be found in the fact that their promise to put all EU legislation into national legislation is combined with a proposal to give the government itself the power to vary or repeal such legislation without going through full parliamentary procedures (the so-called Henry VIII powers). Why do this if you want to leave these rights intact?

But the second, and even more telling, clue is what the leading Brexiters themselves have actually said, revealing their intentions quite clearly.

Boris Johnson – Prominent Leave Campaigner & Foreign Secretary

[Brexit] will be an opportunity for this country to get rid of some of the burdensome regulation that has accreted over the last 44 years.”  28 March 2017

There is little doubt that it is that extra stuff, the stuff from Brussels, that is helping to fur the arteries to the point of sclerosis. The weight of employment regulation is now back-breaking: the collective redundancies directive, the atypical workers directive, the working time directive and a thousand more.” 6 June 2014

Boil it down to the single market. Scrap the social chapter.” 4 December 2012

Liam Fox – Prominent Leave Campaigner & International Trade Secretary

It is too difficult to hire and fire and too expensive to take on new employees. It is intellectually unsustainable to believe that workplace rights should remain untouchable while output and employment are clearly cyclical.” 22 February 2012

Martin (Lord) Callanan – Minister in the DExEU team in the House of Lords

Now a minister in the DexEU team, while an MEP Callanan said that he wanted to:

scrap the working time directive, the agency workers’ directive, the pregnant workers’ directive and all the other barriers to actually employing people”. European Parliament 2012

Priti Patel – Leave campaigner and former International Development Secretary

If we could just halve the EU social and employment legislation we could deliver a £4.3bn boost to the economy.” May 2016

Iain Duncan-Smith – Former Conservative Leader and prominent Leave campaigner

He recently pledged to “whittle away” the regulation “burden” with its “intrusions into the daily life of citizens”.   28 March 2017

We can reduce the cost on business and on individuals by reducing regulations which will improve our competitiveness, our productivity and therefore ultimately our economy.” 28 March 2017


The laws we are talking about here include those on maternity and paternity leave, working time, preventing discrimination in the workplace, safe working environments, redundancy rights, the right to paid holidays – and many others that have been hard won and protect millions of workers from exploitation. We put these into Europe-wide laws to avoid the threat of countries trying to compete by lowering standards, thereby triggering a race to the bottom. They also reflect Europe-wide social values – which is no doubt precisely why the neoliberal right want to destroy them.

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