The hidden agenda of the Brexiteers

di mercoledì, Aprile 18, 2018 0 , , , , Permalink

Bruxelles, 11 aprile 2018. Intervento di Barbara Spinelli nel corso della tavola rotonda organizzata dalla Camera Federale del Lavoro austriaca (AK Europa) e dalla Confederazione austriaca dei sindacati (ÖGB) su “The impact of Brexit on workers’ rights”.


  • Professor Michael Ford QC – Università di Bristol
  • Frances O’Grady – Segretario Generale della Federazione Sindacale britannica (British Trades Union Congress – TUC)
  • Erich Foglar – Presidente della Confederazione austriaca dei sindacati (ÖGB

I would like to begin with the hidden agenda of Tory Brexiteers and others, knowing that Brexit is a complex phenomenon: many voters embraced Leave thinking they would get more, not less social rights.

What a majority of right-wingers really dislike in the Union is the web of regulations which are constitutive of the EU. When Theresa May speaks of a global, sovereign Britain, she transmits the false image of a giant power feeling tied down like Gulliver by Lilliputians, and having an only desire: to break free from the continental midgets and get unchained. Gulliver feels “several ligatures across his body”, and the EU with its norms represents the ligature – the name today is red-tape – to discard. Take back control is a mantra of the Brexiteers. The hidden text of the mantra is less democratic control, less obligations concerning workers’ rights.

All this is magical thinking: the EU social fabric has been already deregulated and devastated by years of austerity. Nonetheless, Tory and DUP Brexiteers continue to feel chained and want even less “ligatures” as far as rights are concerned. I refer to the rights deriving from the EU law and applicable not only to EU citizens living in UK and vice-versa, but also to British nationals living in the UK, including Northern Irish citizens who voted remain and have the right, thanks to the Good Friday Agreement, to choose the Irish – i.e. European – citizenship. Getting rid of the Charter of fundamental rights and of the jurisdiction of the European Court of justice is a key ingredient of the hidden agenda.

As I said, the EU is not today a paradise for those who suffer precariousness and exclusion (I prefer the word expulsion, used by Saskia Sassen). It was the EU Court of Justice who ruled, in the Viking Line and Laval cases, that employers’ rights always trump workers’ rights. So did the Alemo-Parkwood case regarding the directive on transfer of undertakings. Jacques Delors admitted the absence of a social dimension in the EU project in his speech given to the TUC Congress in 1988. He said that the single market should not diminish social protections and dismantle the labour market. A neoliberal agenda prevailed instead, privatising public services, cutting down pensions, wages and employment. The climax was reached by Greece’s fiscal waterboarding. The EU citizens’ trust in the Union collapsed: I personally see a strong link between the threatening talks about Grexit and the subsequent Brexit vote. What Delors said in ’89 is still true: “You cannot fall in love with the single market”.

But what is equally true is that workers’ rights will be badly hit by Brexit. A report of the TUC in February 2017 has shown that wages will be 38 pounds a week lower and there are other forecasts which look even grimmer. The EU – included the single market – offers despite all some shield against the market forces: it’s the truth emerged during the Brexit negotiations. Just an example: last November, the same EU Court of justice ruled in favour of a gig economy worker who never got a paid holiday in 13 years. Jason Moyer-Lee, General Secretary of the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain, observed that the judgement was “a striking reminder of the impending disaster for worker rights that is Brexit”. Part time work, work on demand and in general the gig-economy are protected by EU law much more than they will outside the EU, thanks to specific directives: in particular the directive on working times, as well as the directives on annual leaves, equal pay, maternity rights, parental leave, anti-discrimination laws, compensation for discrimination victims, temporary agency work protections, health and safety. The EU has regressed, but workers risk to be less protected without its directives.

I conclude with the loss of rights by the EU citizens in UK and viceversa. Despite Michel Barnier’s statement that there is now “complete agreement” on citizens’ rights, crucial legal uncertainties remain, as stressed by associations like The3Millions and British in Europe. The situation of at least 5 million people will change dramatically after Brexit and will be dependent on the Withdrawal Agreement. Furthermore, the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice for EU citizens in the UK will be time-limited, hence not guaranteeing them the life-long protection which has been explicitly promised to them by the EU negotiator Barnier.

That’s why the European Parliament must do its utmost to ensure that the full set of EU rights will be included in the Withdrawal Agreement. Post-Brexit citizens will be able to rely only on this treaty as a legal reference to protect their rights.