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Mrs May’s Brexit deal: bad for workers, bad for industry, bad for trade

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Unions can't support a deal that will threaten workers' rights, undermine UK industry and lower standards and protections

Despite suffering two huge defeats, Theresa May seems determined to put her damaging Brexit deal to a third parliamentary vote this week.

There are so many reasons why this deal will be a disaster for UK workers.

The government’s plan to leave the EU single market and customs union will mean UK workers are no longer protected by the same high standards as those in Europe.

And because the UK will no longer be part of the 40 or so EU trade deals that cover most of the world outside a customs union, our government will have to negotiate entirely new deals with other countries on its own.

If its track record during the Brexit negotiations are anything to go by, that means bad trade deals which will threaten our manufacturing industries, damage workers’ rights and put our NHS at risk.

Weak negotiating position

Leaving a customs union with the EU will ensure the UK has far less leverage in trade negotiations than it currently holds within the EU.

Since the 2016 referendum, the government has only managed to negotiate seven trade deals with other countries.

That’s because countries that already have trade deals with the EU have little incentive to sign ones with the UK and are under no time pressure to do so.

So the UK will have to offer incentives to sign a deal. And to attract countries that want a cheaper, more exploitable UK workforce, this could mean offering lower standards on workers’ rights and safety.

Fox’s dangerous friends

International trade secretary Liam Fox needs no encouragement to sign trade deals that will weaken rights and lower standards.

He’s boasted many times about his ambition to sign trade deals with countries such as the USA (where trade unions are banned in some states) and the Gulf States (where forced labour is widespread).

And the US government itself recently admitted that a trade deal with the UK was conditional on lower environmental and safety standards and the ability to flood the UK market with products such as hormone treated beef.

By contrast, the European Parliament recently rejected the idea of a rebooted version of TTIP with the USA partly due to concerns about lower standards.

Manufacturing sold out

The Brexit shambles has also showed what little regard this government has for our proud manufacturing industries.

The TUC and employers have condemned government plans to reduce tariffs to zero on a range of manufacturing goods if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

And if May’s deal gets through but the UK fails to negotiate a trade deal with the EU during the transition period, these zero tariff plans could rear their ugly head again.

Plus if we leave the EU customs union, the UK manufacturing industry will be exposed to many more cheap imports.

This is because the government has passed laws that would bring in much weaker anti-dumping rules (known as ‘trade remedies’) than we currently have due to EU customs union membership.

Trade unions shut out

The government has so far shut trade unions out of the negotiations on Brexit and trade.

For example, unions were given no notice of the zero tariffs plans that were unveiled last week, even though they would affect the jobs of thousands of our members.

And it looks like unions will continue to be shut out in the future.

The government’s recent command paper on free trade agreements once the UK has left the EU made no mention of the role that trade unions would play in ensuring trade negotiations protect workers’ rights or jobs.

By contrast, the EU is showing signs of increasing trade union access to trade negotiations.

After strong trade union pressure, the EU gave trade unionists access to the texts of TTIP and created an advisory forum where trade unionists could comment on these texts.

While the EU needs to extend this process to all to apply to all trade agreements, there is now momentum in the right direction.

And because the TUC will still be part of the European TUC after Brexit, UK trade unions will be able to continue to influence EU discussions on trade, even outside the EU.

A workers’ trade agenda

The TUC and CBI agree we need a way forward now that Theresa May’s deal has been repeatedly defeated in parliament.

First, the government must take no deal off the table.

Second, the only way to protect workers’ rights and manufacturing jobs is to agree a Brexit deal that keeps the UK in the single market and a customs union with the EU.

Third, the TUC and trade unions across Europe want to see trade deals that protect workers’ rights, jobs and public services and promote decent pay everywhere.