European Union (Withdrawal) Act

Part of Leaving the EU – in the House of Commons at 12:16 pm on 14th January 2019.

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Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment) 12:16 pm, 14th January 2019

Good morning, Mr Speaker. I, too, was hoping to catch your eye on 10 December, but the Prime Minister saw to that when she cancelled the debate. When I saw there was a prime ministerial statement today, I wondered if it was Groundhog Day.

I congratulate my hon. Friend Kirsty Blackman, and Barry Gardiner who spoke from the Front Bench from the Labour party, on their speeches about the benefits of immigration and being pro-immigration. I hope that the Chancellor, too, will congratulate both hon. Members, because there is a real concern about the Government’s direction of travel on immigration. We have already heard of individuals applying for universal credit who have lived here for 20 or 30 years, and worked and contributed to the economy, but who, because they were born outside the UK, are being denied universal credit or are receiving questions from the Department for Work and Pensions. I hope the Chancellor will take that back.

I hope the Government will also look at the advertisements for the EU settlement scheme. It seems quite inappropriate that they are seeking to charge people to retain rights and benefits they already have. I am very concerned, too, about what the deal would do for the protection of workers’ rights. As Opposition Members have said, there are too many vague assurances, when what we actually need is a binding agreement. We need to look at the EU’s direction of travel. It is now seeking to introduce changes to improve the work-life balance of parents and to help those in the gig economy. It is far better than the timid approach adopted here in the UK. We are seeing in Europe a real determination to put in place transparent and predictable working conditions.

While the EU is going in that direction, there is a fear among trade unions here about the lack of enforcement, particularly during the transition period, when disputes will be brought to a joint committee. The difficulty with that is that individuals and trade unions will not be able to take those complaints directly to the disputes committee or the European Court of Justice.

We have heard many Conservative Back Benchers talk about the benefits of trade agreements. What will happen for individuals in trade unions, who under international trade agreements are often excluded from bringing challenges under those agreements to enforce their rights at work? It is clear to me that the Government, who spent years challenging in court the trade unions’ argument that tribunal fees should not be put in place, who were responsible for the anti-trade-union Act, and who take a timid approach and refuse to ban zero-hours contracts, cannot be trusted on workers’ rights and protections and the EU protections currently in place.

Finally, some argue that the EU is a neoliberal institution, but a no deal would lead to even more neoliberalism. The answer to that criticism of the EU is not more neoliberalism. We saw that in the financial crash, when there was criticism of neoliberalism. We do not need more of that; we need less, and we need far more protections at work and elsewhere.