My Lords, I do not know about this talk of workers’ rights, but I started at 11 this morning, it is now nearly 10 pm and we are starting again at 11 tomorrow morning—sadly not being paid to be here; I am not a worker, so I cannot use the EU regulations. But that is rather beside the point. I am looking forward to the Minister’s “intellectual thoughts” as the noble Lord, Lord Fox, asked of him.
The Government’s aim is for a free trade agreement—“unfettered” trade—which, if we are not to undercut our competitors across the EU, is bound to involve a level playing field of regulations and state aid rules, as the noble Lord, Lord Fox, said. Michel Barnier has repeatedly stated that Boris Johnson’s ambition of a tariff-free, quota-free deal hinges on accepting this, and EU leaders suggest that level-playing-field commitments will be a precondition for the EU to conclude a free trade agreement. Emmanuel Macron has stated that
“the more ambitious the agreement, the more substantial the regulatory alignment”.
That does not mean all the same rules and institutions—we do not go along with that—but this is about the rules by which we can trade with the EU. Macron also said that a level playing field will make the negotiations “go pretty quickly”.
As we know, the Prime Minister keeps saying “Get Brexit done”, but this also means getting an FTA before the end of the year. If we do not uphold workers’, consumers’ and environmental rights, this will not help the Prime Minister to get his Brexit done. Appearing willing to undermine EU standards—and the Government are seen as undermining them—will immediately indicate to the EU that its companies may face unfair competition from ours. The Government’s deletion of the clauses upholding existing rights has already alarmed the EU and companies there, let alone our own workers and consumers.
Amendment 35 inserts the aims already set out in the political declaration—though of course they are not enforceable in that—where the Government agreed to
“maintain environmental, social and employment standards at the current high levels provided by the existing common standards.”
We are asking for this, from the political declaration, to be included in the Bill.
We have had 45 years of progressive integration of our employment rights and other standards alongside the EU. These regulations are good in themselves for the workers and consumers concerned and for the environment, but they are crucial for an open, fair and competitive continental market on whose growth and resilience all our well-being depends. Furthermore, as has been suggested, any future trade deal must incorporate these high levels of alignment and a level playing field with the EU in order to prevent an alternative vision—the deregulatory US deal—taking primacy over the EU deal. It sounds as though that it is something the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, would like, but we on this side of the House would not. Let us keep to the high standards that we have.