Theresa May in workers’ rights pledge to win Brexit deal support

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By Alasdair Sandford
UK PM Theresa May visits a steel works in Newport, Wales, April 25, 2017
UK PM Theresa May visits a steel works in Newport, Wales, April 25, 2017   -  Copyright  REUTERS/Rebecca Naden

The British government is promising new safeguards on workers’ rights in its latest push to win next week’s “meaningful vote” on a revised EU-UK deal, paving the way for an orderly exit from the bloc.

Prime Minister Theresa May tweeted that new measures would “protect and improve those rights as we leave the EU, giving Parliament, unions and businesses an enhanced role in shaping workers’ rights after Brexit”.

She retweeted an article by Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick in the Huffington Post, saying he is inclined to vote for the deal next week. The government has been trying to win over opposition politicians in Brexit-supporting areas, in the face of continued hostility to the accord among Conservative Eurosceptic backbenchers.

Reports quoting Downing Street say that after Brexit the British parliament will be able to vote on improvements to workers’ rights brought in by the EU, once European law is no longer directly applicable in the UK.

Earlier this week the prime minister’s assurances on workers’ rights were dismissed as “empty rhetoric” by Labour, while Britain’s Trades Union Congress (TUC) said standards for UK workers risked falling behind their European counterparts.

Once again, British government ministers are meeting EU officials in Brussels to try to secure legally-binding changes to the controversial Irish backstop – the insurance plan to guarantee an open border between north and south on the island.

The UK side is led by Brexit minister Stephen Barclay and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox. Pro-Brexit MPs are looking to the government’s chief legal adviser to bring binding “treaty-level” guarantees that the backstop – which would tie the UK to EU customs rules – would not last indefinitely.

EU27 countries have refused to give Brussels a mandate to reopen the withdrawal agreement, but officials have been working on reassurances over the backstop. There is scepticism, however, over whether any changes can win over the UK parliament – which voted emphatically against the deal in January.

EU officials and diplomats have said they do not expect a Brexit breakthrough before the weekend. “We are preparing for a working weekend,” Reuters quoted one official as saying.

That would leave little time for British MPs to consider the detail of any changes before the decisive vote in the House of Commons, which May has promised will happen by March 12. The deal also still needs the approval of the European Parliament.

The UK is due to leave the EU on March 29. However, should the deal be voted down again it is thought likely that MPs will reject exiting the bloc without an agreement, and instruct the government to ask the EU for an extension to the Brexit process.