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The EU has destroyed workers’ rights, not protected them


OUR Brexit negotiating, or appeasement, teams in the May and Johnson administrations seem to have accepted as an axiom that the EU has wonderful standards for all aspects of life and society, and the UK needs to defer to this truth and desperately show it is keeping up, never vice versa. Odd that a nation state the size of the UK, with its penumbra fellowship of the Commonwealth and the common legal traditions shared with the USA, should always inevitably be behind the standards of the EU oligarchy. It is also quite odd that so many of the poor of the world, of all faiths and none, flock to the UK for sanctuary and a better life – not so many to France, Belgium, Holland, for example.

The latest manifestation of this mythical need to ensure the UK ‘keeps up with’ EU standards came last week when the Financial Times ‘broke’ the news, leaked from a government unnamed source (unusually), that the UK was plotting to undermine the very high standards of labour protections after Brexit. HMG instantly denied such a crime was in the making. This devastating revelation was followed up by the ever-zealous BBC’s dark warning: ‘Labour has said leaked government papers “confirm its worst fears” about plans to dilute workers’ rights after Brexit.’ The report continued that ‘documents, revealed by the Financial Times, say that the drafting of commitments on workers’ rights and the environment in the Brexit deal “leaves room for interpretation”. Labour said it is a “blueprint” for ending “vital rights and protections”.’

This latest charade, ‘fake news’ perhaps, did have a real value in that it evoked from real experts the truth that the EU is damaging protections for workers rather than reinforcing them.

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of the Telegraph, the most consistent and best-informed commentator through the political and economic guerilla war against the Brexit referendum result, got to the heart of the matter in an article telling Mr Corbyn that the only way to safeguard workers’ rights in Britain is total escape from EU law. It revealed, too, the desperately low threshold our MSM and political establishment have consistently allowed and put up with from the EU in terms of what it does, aims at and achieves. Have we ever heard before the suggestion that the EU is bad for workers’ rights? No. The shared and unexamined assumption – even by the ERG – is that the EU is a necessary protective force against capitalist exploitation. Whereas the truth is that it is Tony Blair-style ‘globalism’ that has devastated workers’ pay, conditions and job security just as has the EU version of non-democratic capitalism.

Evans-Pritchard says workers’ rights can be achieved only by a clean-break Brexit. He asks us to read a devastating critique of this Brave New Europe by one Professor Mary Davis, a labour historian at Royal Holloway, University of London. She shows how, he writes, the Lisbon Agenda (2000) and the Lisbon Treaty (2007) reversed ‘social Europe’ completely by undermining the legal basis of workers’ rights to employment contracts and negotiated collective agreements:

‘They established market access as the “dominant EU ‘freedom” over all else, rigorously backed by a succession of ECJ rulings. The Scandinavian cases of Viking and Laval in 2007 curbed the right of employees in one country to picket or strike in protest against the use of imported workers shipped in from cheap-wage economies and operating under different codes.

‘These rulings should have been a thunderclap for the Left. Strike action and collective bargaining are the lifeblood of the labour movement . . .

‘Those who worship at the altar of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights might be shocked to learn that the ECJ invoked Article 16 of that text to justify favouring business rights over competing labour rights in these cases.’

Evans-Pritchard describes Professor Davis as ‘withering about those useful idiots on the Left who persist in believing that the EU “grants” protections to British workers. “In practice such concessions are pitifully few and are shot through with loopholes,” she wrote.’

Professor Davis reminds us too that the Working Time Directive (2003) which established a 48-hour maximum week does not match protections secured here decades ago. ‘Most negotiated collective agreements in the UK give workers a much better deal: a maximum 40-hour week, a demand championed by the labour movement since the 1880s.’

Some Labour MPs have rumbled all this, such as Graham Stringer and Caroline Flint, both cited in the article. Stringer notes that in our UK democracy any damage to workers’ rights can always be put right after an election, but when the EU removes rights it is final, unrepealable, acquis.

Evans-Pritchard’s conclusion? ‘What Mr Corbyn should be demanding from Boris Johnson is an absolute guarantee that the UK’s battle-scarred labour movement will never again see its historic gains put at risk by an EU rights charter that belies its name or by EU judges enforcing anti-worker laws that can never be repealed.’

So: the EU is an engine against workers’ rights, its ‘ever so high standards’ are a complete myth, and the great FT failed to note this fact, as did the BBC. This highlights the fog cast over the ‘debate’ by remainers for the past three years or more. We have been fooled and fooled again. As to our ‘negotiators’, they have gone along with the mythology and compliantly acted on behalf of their EU backers.

Only a clean-break Brexit can ensure labour rights – are you listening Mr Corbyn, let alone Ms Swinson and Mr Johnson? Do you actually care?

Can’t you see we need to break free now while we can; that Johnson’s not-a-deal tunnel traps us in three years of punishment and economic damage – Barnier has said so. Jobs will go, taxes will be levied by the EU, agriculture and fisheries will be hobbled, the City strangled.

Meanwhile we see more of these ‘ever so high standards’ at play in Catalonia where the equivalent of the SNP leaders are now in prison. The EU is happy and colludes. It will interfere with our political processes, it is, even now, dictating when we can have our next General Election. Is that the exercise of high standards of democratic scrutiny, Messrs Bercow, Grieve, Letwin, Hammond? Are you happy that Guy Verhofstadt – open in his demagoguery against the nation state and in favour of an oligarchical federal state of Europe – represents ‘high standards’ for Western liberal democratic government?

We know we have been deceived by our political establishment ever since Edward Heath took us into the EEC, but do we realise quite how much this is still the case?

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Timothy Bradshaw
Timothy Bradshaw
Timothy Bradshaw is a Theological lecturer and Anglican clergyman

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