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May's Promise to Protect Workers' Rights After Brexit Deemed Meaningless

11 March 2019

Leading EU and employment law barrister Aidan O'Neill QC has issued a legal opinion slamming Theresa May's supposed guarantee on worker rights post-Brexit.

The opinion, commissioned by the IWGB and TSSA, is being sent today (11 March) to all Labour MPs in advance of the “meaningful vote” on 12 March.

The proposal on worker rights is a key plank of Theresa May's strategy to get her Brexit deal through Parliament. Some backbench Labour MPs have publicly stated that they would support May's deal on the basis of this empty proposal on worker rights.

Aidan O'Neill QC has previously acted on behalf of cross-party politicians on the article 50 revocability case before the European Court, for the IWGB on the article 50 Supreme Court case and on a number of landmark employment law cases.

The opinion concludes:

May's proposal is no guarantee that future EU standards will be matched;

Parliament can't bind future Parliaments so any such guarantee in any event would be meaningless;

Even if Parliament did implement all new EU standards, workers still lose out on the key features of EU law such as direct effect, primacy over conflicting domestic law, and effective remedy;

Workers lose access to the CJEU which tends to have more pro worker interpretations of the same legislation;

The Charter of Fundamental rights would cease to apply

The UK has traditionally played the role of watering down or attempting to bar pro-worker legislation from the EU. Despite this the workers’ rights provisions from EU law are quite powerful for all the reasons given in the attached opinion. But a UK Government focused on enhancing workers’ rights would likely find ripe terrain in the EU to pass much greater protection for workers in EU law.

TSSA General Secretary Manuel Cortes said: "Our Labour Party was created to defend the interests of working people. What we have here is a Prime Minister playing fast and loose on the issue of workers' rights.

“Our rights are not poker chips to be played with in the Conservative Brexit Casino. Our rights are hard won and it's the duty of every Labour MP not to collude with the Tories to get rid of them.

“This clear expert legal opinion only goes to show that May's offer was never a serious prospect on workers' rights."

IWGB General Secretary Jason Moyer-Lee said: "This legal opinion is a damning indictment of the Prime Minister's non-offer last week. Workers, and in particular the precarious workers the IWGB represents, need the full protection of EU employment law.

“The PM's half-hearted proposals don't come anywhere near that protection."

The full legal advice can be found here:

  Legal Advice on May's Promise to Protect Workers' Rights After Brexit

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