After last night’s defeat, the prime minister is likely to redouble her efforts to win over Labour MPs in a desperate attempt to get her deal over the line. But her assurances on protecting people’s rights is empty – as is her promise of extra money for “left-behind” communities, which InFacts wrote about yesterday.
Theresa May is promising that leaving the EU will not mean the “lowering of standards in relation to workers’ rights, environmental protections, or health and safety”. To that end, she has offered “legally binding commitments to no regression” on these rights, meaning the UK’s standards will not drop below the EU level of protection we enjoy today.
May has also said she is prepared to commit to “asking Parliament whether it wishes to follow suit whenever the EU changes its standards” in the future. She hopes this is enough to convince Labour waverers that the UK will not fall behind EU countries as their rights improve after Brexit.
Labour MPs shouldn’t fall for this. Do they really trust a future Parliament controlled by the Conservatives to stay lock step with EU rights?
Take May’s boast this week that she was minister for women and equalities when shared parental leave was introduced to the UK – without any EU regulation required. Lib Dem deputy leader Jo Swinson, who served alongside May in the coalition government, was quick to point out that this was a Lib Dem policy which the Tories “fought tooth and nail against”.
Protecting workers’ rights also sits uncomfortably with this government’s obsessive – if inept – pursuit of an “independent trading policy” after Brexit. Trade minister Liam Fox admitted this week that some of the countries the UK wants to strike post-Brexit deals with are already demanding we roll back human rights standards to move talks forward. He said he was “not inclined” to agree.
Labour MPs should also not forget that, even if May means what she says, she won’t be prime minister for ever. Maybe not even for very long. And Parliament itself will change. It will be those unknown MPs of the future who decide how rights progress in this country, free to ignore improvements in the EU.
Uncertainty over rights is just another example of the blindfold Brexit we’re being offered. Labour MPs should reject the prime minister’s gifts and instead back a People’s Vote.