Following the United Kingdom’s official withdrawal from the European Union at the end of January 2020, the negotiations on a future trade agreement started on Monday, 2nd March. The Chamber of Labour is determined: BREXIT must not be at the expense of the workforce!
On Tuesday, 25th February, the 27 remaining EU Member States agreed the Mandate for the negotiations on future trade relations between the European Union and the United Kingdom proposed by the Commission. The negotiations will be led by the French politician Michel Barnier; the chief negotiator on the British side is David Frost.
The negotiations are under enormous time pressure. Following her EU withdrawal on 31st January 2020, Great Britain will continue to follow the rules of the Union until the end of the year. After that, a trade agreement must be in place – or we are faced with the dreaded “no deal” scenario. The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently threatened to break off the talks if no draft for a trade agreement would exist at a summit scheduled for June. In that case one would instead focus on the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) existing trade conditions.
However, reverting to WTO conditions would not only result in tariffs on a wide range of goods, but also lead to more border controls and delays associated with them. The deadline announced by Johnson – including the option to break off talks – is an official part of the British negotiation mandate; thereby Great Britain increased the pressure on the EU even before the start of the negotiations. Whilst Conservative MPs in the House of Commons gave a positive reception to the negotiation mandate, opposition parties and trade unions greeted it with a barrage of criticism. “The government recklessly puts jobs and workers‘ rights at risk”, warned Francis O’Grady, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress.
EU insists on the UK maintaining Union standards
In principle, both Great Britain and the EU are in favour of a free-trade zone with tariff and quota free movement of goods. However, the British government wants to follow the example of CETA, the trade agreement between the EU and Canada, and is neither willing to submit to EU single market rules in future nor to accept the legitimacy of the European Court of Justice. On the other side of the negotiating table, the EU stresses its own intransigence concerning exactly these points. According to the EU, adhering to equivalent social, environmental and labour standards as well as rules applicable to state aid are absolute basic conditions for a possible trade agreement.
Chamber of Labour against BREXIT at the expense of the workforce
Regarding the now opened negotiations, the Chamber of Labour welcomes the publication of the mandate as well as the fundamental commitment to transparency. The AK is generally in favour of a close future partnership with Great Britain, however, warns against a destructive race to the bottom. Should Great Britain adopt a lowering of Union law standards – for example in respect of labour law, social or environmental protection, this might entail unacceptable consequences – not only for British employees. Deregulating these areas might result in a competitive advantage, which subsequently would also put EU standards under pressure. This must be avoided under any circumstances. BREXIT must not be delivered at the expense of workers. The interests of employees and consumers must be maintained as must be environmental and climate protection.
The Chamber of Labour demands fair competition, applying the same starting conditions – keyword: “level playing field” – whilst maintaining Union law standards. To guarantee this, an effective mechanism to enforce these equal starting conditions is required. Therefore, all relevant provisions should submit to the general dispute settlement mechanism. Only then it can be guaranteed that possible violations can be punished. However, it is explicitly welcomed that the mandate draft does not provide for Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS).
It remains to be seen, when and how the negotiations with Great Britain will deliver the first results. The Chamber of Labour will continue to keep a critical eye on the negotiations and fight to ensure that the interests of workers on both sides of the British Channels will be maintained within the scope of a possible agreement.