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Boris Johnson’s government may “exploit” the Covid-19 economic crisis to force a “shock doctrine” US trade deal that deregulates the UK and weakens rights, an alliance of key left wing figures has claimed.
The group, which includes Labour’s Clive Lewis and Green Party co-leaders Sian Berry and Jonathan Bartley, believes hardline Leavers view the pandemic-driven recession as a “huge opportunity” to strike a deal with Donald Trump that “attacks” employment and migrant rights.
It comes as the prime minister is set to meet EU leaders on Monday, as trade talks with Brussels are on a knife edge.
It is feared time is running out ahead of the December transition period deadline, with Cabinet Office minister Penny Mordaunt confirming last week preparations for a no-deal exit had begun.
Setting out 13 demands as part for a post-Brexit Britain, the campaigners said they accept the Leave-Remain argument is over, but hope the left could unite behind a series of progressive policies and oppose a “deregulatory” trade deal with Washington.
The move is more likely to pile pressure on Labour’s new leader Keir Starmer, who is still formulating party policies on trade and Europe and has yet to say whether he backs an extension to the transition.
Lewis told HuffPost UK: “We’ve left the EU, and it’s no good pretending like this hasn’t happened. But leaving the EU is just the first stage of the Brexit process. Everything is now at stake, and unless we apply some pressure, we are going to face yet another disaster.
“There is a real danger this government will try to use the Covid crisis and the very possible resulting recession as a shock doctrine. One they can use to reshape our society around a trade deal with Donald Trump. That could mean a permanently deregulated economy, lower standards and worse wages and rights. All the things we said were likely should Brexit be successful.
“There is almost no popular support for such an approach. That means we need to make ourselves heard - both about the dangers such a trade deal represents but also our own alternative vision for a radically different future and what it would like.”
The left-wing coalition set out demands in 13 policy areas:
Permanent membership of the European Medicines Agency and public ownership of pharmaceuticals
Migrants’ rights, including an automatic ‘right to stay’ for EU nationals, the right to vote and continued free movement
Tougher legally binding targets on carbon emissions
Environmental protections that keep pace with EU regulations
Workers’ rights “levelling up” and EU-standard workplace protections
Continued membership of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and protection of the Human Rights Act
Democratic reform to include proportional representation
Consumer protections, food standards and animal rights
Clampdowns on tax avoidance and protections on jobs
A new “progressive system” of agriculture subsidies and fishing quotas
Opposition to a deregulatory US trade deal
Science research and culture funding, including UK participation in ERASMUS, the European Research Council and science programmes
Curbing arms exports and a revamp of international development policy
The demands have the backing of five Labour MPs, including Nadia Whittome and Kate Osamor, as well as trade unionists, Plaid Cymru’s Hywel Williams, the Stop Trump coalition and Global Justice Now.
Michael Chessum, from Another Europe is Possible, added: “All over the world, the nationalist right is in government and will look to exploit the economic crisis that is to come. In the UK, they see a huge opportunity in being able to use the Brexit process to deregulate the economy in an unprecedented way, while at the same time waging war against migrants’ rights and human rights more generally.
“An opportunity for them is a danger to the rest of us - to workers, migrants and the planet. Everyone on the left - regardless of what position they took on Brexit - now has a responsibility to resist this agenda. We cannot wait until the next election to act, because by then it may be too late.”
Ministers have said that a trade deal with the US will not lead to any lower standards on food, legal protections or employment rights.
Johnson has insisted he is seeking a deal with the EU in the coming months, however, ministers confirmed last week that the government had begun preparations for a no-deal outcome.