The suspicion that the Conservative government seeks to lower environmental and labour market standards to compete with the Single Market is threatening the fragile consensus over a Withdrawal Agreement in the UK.
Last week the Conservative government succeeded in passing the Withdrawal Agreement in principle but failed to agree on a short three-day debate of the Withdrawal Agreement bill. The agreement to debate the bill in principle was achieved thanks to the support of nineteen Labour party defectors. This gave a political victory for Johnson, who leads a minority government, and had yet to achieve a single victory in parliament.
However, these defectors had been assured that the UK had agreed on a “level-playing field” with the EU, which would prevent a race to the bottom. But the Financial Times published on Saturday extracts of the 110–page Withdrawal Agreement that suggests Johnson had negotiated the possibility of significant deviation from EU working rights standards. That means Johnson may be accused of misguiding the parliament.
The extracts suggest that Johnson has merely agreed to the principle of “open and fair competition,” in the future, which may open the way for significant deviation. Many in Brussels have expressed the fear that the UK could be turned into a low-tax, lightly regulated economy on the edge of Europe, becoming a “Singapore-on-Thames.”
This idea has been vehemently opposed by the Labour Party, while Michael Gove and Boris Johnson have frequently offered assurances of the highest possible standards. These assurances allowed Labour rebel MPs to defect.
“It wouldn’t make any sense at all to dilute workers’ rights in building that coalition to land the bill,” Junior Business minister Kwasi Kwarteng told the BBC on Saturday.
“UK will maintain (the) highest standards of workers’ rights and environmental standards when we leave the EU,” business minister Andrea Leadsom said on Twitter.
However, not everyone is convinced by these political assurances. The extracts of the leaked document suggest scope for wider interpretation. “Boris Johnson’s Brexit is a blueprint for a deregulated economy, which will see vital rights and protections torn up,” Jeremy Corbyn said on Saturday, sending a clear message to his nineteen defectors.
“Boris Johnson’s Brexit is a blueprint for a deregulated economy, which will see vital rights and protections torn up,” Labour shadow Brexit minister Jenny Chapman added.