Time For The Government To Drop Its Self-Defeating Brexit 'Red Lines'

Only blind ideology could justify pursuing a deal like this
Toby Melville / Reuters

Now that we’re finally moving to the next stage of negotiations, the government should be laser-focused on getting a deal that protects jobs, livelihoods and rights. But it’s clear that their reckless and self-defeating red lines are getting in the way.

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, said today that since the UK has ruled out membership of the customs union and single market, the only realistic model is “a free trade agreement on the Canadian model.” And David Davis, Boris Johnson and other ministers have already supported using CETA as a starting point.

This is terrible news for working people. CETA is a dreadful deal, which unions across Europe opposed. It’s all about maximising the profits of foreign investors, leaving working people in second place – the exact opposite of what was promised to voters by the leave campaign.

Workers’ rights

Our rights at work would be threatened under this kind of deal, and workers would no longer be able to enforce their rights through the European Court of Justice.

One of our key tests for Brexit is that British workers can’t fall behind the rest of Europe on working rights. A Canada-style deal would resoundingly fail that test, giving politicians the freedom to attack our holiday pay, maternity leave and other vital protections.

Health and safety and environmental standards would take a back seat too, something Brexiteers like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have clearly been hoping for all along.

The NHS and other public services would be vulnerable too. CETA allows foreign investors to sue the government if its activities threaten their profits, creating the incentive for further privatisations and making it harder to bring our railways back into public ownership.

And crucially, a deal like this would be bad for the British economy. While CETA removes barriers to trade in most goods, tariffs are still in place on services. The service sector makes up nearly 80% of the British economy, and the vast majority of our trade with Europe, so such an arrangement would simply make no sense in the British context.

Time to change course

Only blind ideology could justify pursuing a deal like this, and unfortunately that’s exactly what we’re seeing from ministers. Just this week, David Davis confirmed that the government has failed to carry out any impact assessments, preferring to gamble with people’s livelihoods.

We at the TUC have set out clear tests for Brexit. We’ve said that any deal must protect jobs, living standards and rights, as well as allowing citizens to enforce consumer, environmental and labour standards. It should also give workers a say over trade through union involvement and protect the Good Friday Agreement.

We measured all the options against those standards, and it’s clear that membership of the single market and customs union beats a CETA-style deal hands down. The government made a historic mistake when it took those options off the table before negotiations had even begun.

But it’s not too late to change course. In the new year, we want to see a sea change in the negotiations. The government needs to abandon its ludicrous red lines and fight for a Brexit that works for working people.

Frances O’Grady is the general secretary of the TUC


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