The UK EU Withdrawal Agreement and the Future UK – EU Relationship: Campaigning for a New EU Deal Fit For Workers

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2018 National Delegate Conference
20 February 2018
Carried as Amended

Conference notes that since the triggering of Article 50 March 2017 the government’s European Union (EU) withdrawal negotiations have been embarrassingly incompetent. There has been no clear EU exit plan or cohesive strategy to get the best deal from the negotiations for the UK economy and workers.

The weak UK negotiations have been a result of divisive Tory internal wrangling between the hard and soft “Brexiteers”. The endless emphasis on ‘taking back control’, free trade deals, creating a low tax country, the loss of freedom of movement for UK workers and the dismantling EU citizen rights has been created by a clique of Tory hard line ‘Brexiteers’ and their media supporters. The EU Referendum campaign created an environment where hostility to all migrants flourished.

Conference believes this narrow vision must be challenged.

Their vision of the UK’s future relationship with the EU has overshadowed the government’s negotiations to the detriment of getting a deal that would be best for the UK’s future by providing: stability for investments in quality jobs; funding for public services, regional economies and infrastructure projects; the ending of austerity with guaranteed protection of employment, social, equality and environmental standards; a fairer and more equal society with an emphasis on real opportunities for young people and continued EU freedom of movement.

Conference further notes that in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 the government has given itself unprecedented executive powers to amend, repeal or weaken retained EU law, whilst restricting the sovereign power of parliament in the process. These new ‘Henry VIII powers’ allow Ministers to amend Acts of Parliament, without the need for full Parliamentary scrutiny and are nothing to do with the UK people “taking back control”.

UNISON believes this puts our equality, human rights and workplace rights at risk when the UK leaves the EU. These include laws protecting women, Black, LGBT and disabled workers from discrimination at work; rights to time off for working parents; holiday pay and protections from excessive working hours; equal treatment rights for part-time, fixed term and agency workers; information and consultation rights and health and safety standards.

The Scottish Parliament, Wales Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly (when not suspended) also all have concerns that this Bill threatens and weakens their devolution settlements and arrangements.

Conference believes that existing equality, human and workers’ rights, derived from EU legislation, need to be safeguarded in the future and calls on the government to guarantee that no future changes can be made through the back door and only through explicit primary legislation open to full parliamentary scrutiny, civic and trade union consultation.

Conference also believes that future UK citizens’ and workers’ rights must also be updated in line with progressive improvements and benefits made through both European Court of Justice (ECJ) rulings and the new forthcoming EU Social Pillar of Rights. The government also needs to adopt the equivalent protections that other EU members have in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and international human rights treaties.

Conference further notes with dismay that the exact details of the withdrawal terms are the subject of ongoing and future negotiations and cannot be known until those negotiations are very near completion. This means that parliament and the public will effectively have no say as to what goes in the final Bill on the Withdrawal Agreement.

Given the lack of consultation on the deal and the terms for the UK’s future EU relationship Conference believes that it is vital that the government sticks to its promise to give parliament time to debate, scrutinise and have a meaningful vote on the final Withdrawal Agreement & Implementation Bill.

Conference further believes that the government’s determination to ensure that parliament and the UK public get little say on the outcomes of withdrawal have also been reflected in the proposals in the Bills on Trade, Customs and Immigration which give new powers to Ministers to enact secondary legislation with no guarantees that either new International Trade Treaties or UK Immigration laws will be created through primary legislation, parliamentary debate and scrutiny.

Conference also believes that a new EU deal will only be fair to workers if it does not progressively undermine workers’ rights over time. Therefore any future new trade deal between the UK and EU must include a mechanism whereby the UK cannot fall behind the EU on improvements to employment rights.

Conference therefore is very dismayed with the process that the Government has set out for how the new future EU deal for the UK will be agreed once we have begun to implement the Withdrawal Agreement. Conference notes the new agreement(s) governing the UK’s future relationship with the EU can only be legally concluded once the UK has left the EU and that this may take the form of a single agreement or a number of agreements covering different aspects of the new UK-EU relationship.

However the government has stated that parliament’s role will be limited to just the ratification process of the new EU deal agreements because the ‘CRAG’ (Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010) process is likely to apply to agreements on our future relationship. Parliament will only be allowed to oppose (or tacitly accept) a treaty in full – it cannot amend any of the new agreements or treaties. This means that parliament will not have the power to debate, amend or vote on any of the new Agreements or Treaties but will only be able to agree or disagree to ratify the Agreement or Treaty laid by the Minister.

This means that the European Parliament and the other EU 27 member states are likely to have more of a democratic say on the content of the new UK-EU Agreement or Treaty than the UK public and parliament.

Conference believes this democratic deficit must be immediately addressed and that a new democratic process for treaties, involving public consultation and the opportunity to debate and amend treaties must be adopted.

Conference therefore calls on the National Executive Council to campaign for workers’ rights and quality public services to be a fundamental part of a future UK-EU agreement and to:

1)Continue to inform and engage UNISON members and the general public on how exiting the EU negotiations may impact on the four key priority areas set out at Conference 2017:

a)Employment, health and safety standards and trade union rights

b)Public services and professional standards

c)Trade deals/standards, environmental regulations and public procurement

d)Freedom of movement and right to remain. Fighting racism, discrimination and promoting equalities and human rights;

2)Work with the TUC, ICTU, STUC, WTUC, Labour Party, MPs and Peers, MEPs, EPSU, ETUC and PSI and civic alliances – who specifically campaign on protecting public services, employment rights, human rights, equality, migration rights, anti-racism, the environment, animal welfare, health and safety and democratising trade deals – to ensure the government adopts a transparent and democratic approach to all aspects of Exiting the EU negotiations;

3)Campaign with politicians for an open, transparent and democratic process in both the EU and UK so that the UK public and parliament can have a say in the content of the Withdrawal Agreement and Implementation Bill and the new UK-EU Agreements or Treaties. Including addressing all devolved issues in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and protecting the vital Good Friday Agreement and the need for a solution for the Irish border that satisfies the Irish Congress of Trade Unions;

4)Campaign for an Impact Assessment of the final new EU deal with particular attention on how changes will impact the UK in the following areas:

i)Economy and regional growth;

ii)Public services and procurement;

iii)Employment rights;

iv)Income equality and gender pay;

v)Jobs, skills, pay, terms and conditions;

vi)Health and safety;

vii)Equality, citizen and human rights;

viii)Environmental, food, animal welfare, public health standards and consumer protection;

ix)Land border between UK and the Republic of Ireland;

5)To campaign to keep public services outside the scope of existing and new EU trade agreements and oppose legislation which seek to liberalise and deregulate public services or downgrade existing EU social, consumer and environmental standards;

6)Oppose any new EU agreement or trade deals which undermine the democratic UK’s right to keep public services public or use special investor protection through ISDS (Investor state dispute settlement) or the ICS (Investor Court System) or ‘ratchet and standstill clauses’ which would prevent the right to return public services to public ownership in the future without huge financial penalties for private profit compensation;

7)Campaign for better and more flexible use in the UK of State Aid and procurement rules to expand public ownership, fund quality in-house public services and intervene in strategic industries, infrastructure and utilities; reject either UK or EU de-regulation; learn lessons how countries like France promote public ownership; and over turn European Court of Justice rulings which put market competition and business interests before workers rights;

8)Promote equality and challenge all forms of discrimination, including racism and hate crime, supporting migrant workers and the right for a humane immigration system, the EU free movement of labour and promoting UNISON’s campaign to take action against the cutting of pay and conditions by closing down cheap labour loopholes which exploit low paid workers and thereby strengthening workplace protections;

9)Campaign for the maintenance of full EU citizens’ rights for EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens living in Europe and to continue to provide support and information to UNISON’s estimated 70,000 EU members;

10)Campaign for a UK legislative mechanism in the new EU deal that ensures that the UK’s equalities and human rights, employment and labour laws, public procurement social provisions, consumer protection and environmental laws are not weakened or downgraded after having exited the EU and that they continue to be favourably updated and interpreted so that UK workers have the same rights and protections as EU workers;

11)Work with the TUC to campaign for the best transitional terms and democratic dispute resolution options in the Withdrawal Agreement and Implementation Bill;

12)Evaluate the options for the best future trade model and relationship or agreement options that provides the best economic opportunities for the UK to protect living standards and social provisions, public services and jobs, now and for future generations, and share with UNISON members.