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Interpretation

Part of European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:30 pm on 8th January 2020.

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Photo of Nick Thomas-Symonds Nick Thomas-Symonds Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Security) 5:30 pm, 8th January 2020

I am delighted to see the hon. Gentleman giving credit to past Labour Governments and their achievements, and he is absolutely right in what he says about the national minimum wage. We can go back even further and talk about the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, which was another fine achievement by a UK Labour Government. However, there are also rights whose genesis has been in European law, as we know if we talk to agency workers and think about the working time directive. We should be praising these things. Labour Members say they should be not only preserved but enhanced in future years, and that is what this new clause is all about.

I say to the hon. Gentleman that the Government’s record on workers’ rights is concerning to say the least. Let us consider the previous incarnation of this Bill, which was in October 2019. Schedule 4 to that Bill outlined that, first, a Minister would have to consult businesses and unions on the impact on workers’ rights of any new proposed legislation and then state formally how that would happen, and that, secondly, the Government would have to report regularly on any new EU directives. At the time, those proposals were described by the TUC general secretary as “meaningless procedural tricks”, which is why Labour Members tabled a similar amendment to the one before us today so that stronger protections would be in place. The position of the Government in October 2019 was weak on workers’ rights and now it is even weaker. If the Prime Minister cared so much, he would not have moved the provisions on this from the legally binding withdrawal agreement to the non-binding political declaration. Why bother to make that change if not to prepare the ground to make changes in the future? It was no surprise that the Government started off this Parliament indicating that they want to attack the right to strike in the transport sector.

None of those are the actions of a Government who want, as they claim, to

“protect and enhance workers’
rights as the UK leaves the EU”.

They are not the actions of a Government who want to make Britain the

“best place in the world to work.”

Let us not forget that the Conservative party is the party of employment tribunal fees, which were a barrier to those whose rights at work had been infringed and were seeking justice. The Government now ask for trust on workers’ rights, but their record on this bears no reasonable scrutiny. The Home Secretary, in the EU referendum campaign, talked of the

“burdens of the EU social and employment legislation”.

Another member of the Government said:

“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”.

Who said that? It was the man who now claims to be the workers’ friend, the Prime Minister himself. This Government cannot and will not be trusted on workers’ rights—rights that have been hard won over generations by the labour movement. That is why this new clause is needed in the Bill, in order to safeguard the millions of workers in this country who deserve our continuous protections of their rights. That is why the Opposition will press that new clause to a vote when the time comes.

New clause 3 sets out details about our future relationship, putting the protection of jobs and livelihoods at the very top of our priorities as we depart the EU. It sets out the arguments that have been made by the Opposition for some years now, arguments for a UK-wide customs union, with a say in external trade deals, for strong, high-quality single market access, and for ensuring that rights and protections—for workers, as I have mentioned, but in other areas too—in the UK never fall behind those across Europe. I also think of our manufacturing sector, where our exporters are currently benefiting from tariff-free access to the single market. In all our constituencies, whether through direct employment or the many supply chains that exist, workers and businesses will rightly look to this House to protect their interests going forward, and that is what we should do.

In the course of this Parliament, we will hold the Government to account on their record on jobs and investment. The basis upon which they secure the new relationship with the EU will have consequences for now and for decades to come. Parliament has lost its right to set a negotiating mandate, so that task now falls squarely on the shoulders of the Government. They will be judged on what they do and the impact it has on employment prospects up and down the land.

Subsection (1)(d) refers to participation in EU agencies, many of which have been debated in the course of our deliberations on Brexit in recent years. I wish to focus on and make some remarks about the issue of security, because in a digital age, when crime knows no borders, there are extraordinary new challenges in the task of keeping the public safe. Nobody can doubt the value of working together, and continuing to work together, on security with the EU and other international partners, but the Government have not yet produced a credible plan on how the current advantages we have—the current set of tools—will continue in the post-Brexit age.