As I reported to the AGM, your delegates to the TUC were mandated by your National Executive Committee to support the TUC policy position on Brexit. The outcome of the negotiations with the EU were announced last week and gave rise to what was by any standards an extraordinary week in UK politics.
Below is the statement from TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady which I thought you would want to see.
Last night the UK government published the full text of the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration, after the Cabinet took the collective decision to back the Brexit deal
Over the last 24 hours, we’ve seen a government spiralling out of control. As ever, the Conservative party is putting its interests ahead of the needs of working people. The TUC is clear: with this deal, the government has failed to deliver for working people.
We now face a blindfold Brexit. The prime minister is expecting MPs to sign up to something where they can’t see the destination. The Political Declaration isn’t worth the paper it’s written on, as it is not legally binding. And based on what we’ve seen today, a Brexiteer Tory government could come in and rip it up.
The Congress 2018 General Council statement on Brexit set out the TUC’s three tests on workers’ rights, jobs, and the Good Friday Agreement:
- For workers’ rights to be protected and enforceable now and into the future, Britain’s final status deal with the EU must include a level playing field for workers’ rights to stop unfair competition and ensure good employers are not undercut by the bad.
- A prosperous UK needs tariff-free, barrier-free, frictionless trade in goods and services with the rest of Europe to protect jobs.
- The Good Friday Agreement must be protected and there must be no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland or more restrictions on the border between Gibraltar and Spain.
The Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration do not meet these tests.
The TUC has significant concerns about the lack of employment rights protections in the Withdrawal Agreement:
- Workers’ rights will not be fully protected once we leave the EU, even during the transition period. The government intends that new EU rights set to come into force after the transition will not apply to UK workers.
- The only employment rights commitments for the period after the transition are in the draft, non-binding Political Declaration. This means any future government could simply ignore the intentions of this statement and take a different approach.
- And even if we take the Political Declaration at face value, it’s still badly lacking. It does not give any detail about which social and employment standards would be covered and enforced by a free trade agreement.
- The backstop arrangements, which could come into force at the end of the transition period, if a free trade agreement is not reached, do provide more detail. They show that while the intention would be to maintain existing EU employment rights, UK rights could fall behind those of workers in the EU going forward. In a backstop scenario, the transition period’s enforcement mechanisms would also cease.
In short, we face a transition period where UK workers’ rights start to fall behind; a free trade agreement where they could be dismantled by a future government; and a backstop which purports to protect existing employment rights while giving no commitments that UK workers’ rights will keep pace with the EU and which can’t be enforced.
On jobs, even the government has acknowledged that any of the options they’ve laid out to date would be worse for the economy than remaining in the single market and the customs union. This deal is bad for jobs and investment in all regions of the UK. The only question left to answer is how much worse this deal will be than our existing relationship.
On Northern Ireland, while the immediate threat of a hard border has been avoided, it’s clear that big questions remain, particularly around the social and political elements of the Good Friday Agreement.
The TUC will not be supporting a deal which is bad for rights, bad for jobs and fails to fully safeguard the Good Friday Agreement. We will be urging all MPs to vote against it.
I have just returned from Parliament having met Justice Select Committee Chair Bob Neill, along with our National Chair Katie Lomas. It’s one more in a series of important engagements that the team and I have been undertaking since AGM. These have included meetings with Lord Ramsbotham and the Labour Police and Crime Commissioners, members of the Labour Justice Team, the Justice and Family Court Unions Parliamentary Group, National Audit Office and various professionally focused seminars.
These activities, along with our regular interface with our media contacts provide us with major opportunities to promulgate the reunification campaign as we enter the next stage. This is specifically designed to help you get our message across more effectively to all MP’s at this critical time especially those who hold influential positions on Parliamentary Committees.
The more we engage with HMPPS/MoJ sources and the more we hear ‘off the record’ comments from senior CRC leads, the more confidence we have that the Governments plans to re-marketise Probation are another ill-considered and desperate ploy to save political face no matter what the cost to the taxpayer and community safety.
Even without the current political chaos it is hard to see how the timetable for designing, tendering and awarding new CRC contracts can be achieved especially as there is a growing tide of opposition to this folly.
Members should hopefully have seen my letter to David Gauke that I sent across last week. This demanded that his Government make the necessary adjustments to current and prospective CRC contracts and agree to establish pay parity across the whole of Probation. I am about to write to CRC leads to encourage them to join the campaign too and we will publish these letters along with the responses
I expect our request to the SoSfJ will be seen as fanciful to say the least and will soon be at the bottom of his in tray while his attention and that of Rory Stewart remains focused on doing anything possible to avoid a General Election. I would be delighted to be proved wrong and hear that they are willing to meet with people who have a different perspective to their own.
Finally, it’s well worth mentioning that we have received a record number of applications to join Napo over the last month. While this has been boosted by new members from the NPS we have seen a notable rise from CRC staff, many of whom have told me that they have seen the value of joining a campaigning, principled union that speaks out with authority on the professional issues.
Look out for more news soon on the recruitment campaign and join our growing list of ‘Napo Activ8rs.’