"What will it cost? For us to stay? Something seriously needs done with Health & Safety”
“You want us not to leave? Then you need to help us out with the red tape and the cost of workers compensation"
“Well, there is one way that the UK can be far more attractive than Europe - Lose workers’ rights”
I will not begin this blog by saying that you can imagine the conversations. There's no need for speculation or imagination. It is a matter of pure and simple inevitability; and the writing has been on the wall since the UK Government entered into a secret and private deal to keep Nissan producing cars in the UK.
First there was Nissan. Now, we have the sale of the European Division of General Motors (Vauxhall) to Europe’s new super giant car manufacturer PSA.
PSA will no doubt very shortly have their own private meeting with 'She Who Refuses to Give Our Parliament a Meaningful Vote on the Brexit' (and long may the House of Lords refuse to obey). I say meeting. I of course mean they will list their demands and the prime minister shall capitulate.
The CEO of PSA pretty much confirmed what lay ahead politically as he gave his first post merger interviews at the Geneva Motor Show this week.
In a nutshell, his position was that the two UK manufacturing plants that he has taken over COULD stay open (his emphasis, not mine). There was however a monumental “but” to his comment. Firstly, the plants had to perform to a very high standard of production. Fair enough. Britain and British workers have a very long and proud history within the motor industry; and I have no doubt that our workers will meet any production goals expected of them.
The second “but” was far more worrying. It was clear that he would expect significant concessions from the UK Government; pointing expressly to the discussions between the government and Nissan that allowed them to commit to retain a manufacturing foothold in the UK post Brexit.
Nothing more was said by him and all of the commentators have suggested that those commitments related to measures to financially encourage the production of battery powered and similarly “green” vehicles.
That may very well be the case in relation to PSA. But it is not the point.
The real point is that because of a reckless decision by a desperate Prime Minister to hold a referendum on our EU membership, we now find ourselves in a position where big business can enter into a dark room with our new Prime Minister and reach private deals as to what the Government must do to keep them manufacturing in the U.K.
It is undemocratic. It is dangerous. It is, frankly, terrifying. These negotiations are akin to playing a game of poker where one player has their cards showing for all to see and the other doesn’t. Our Prime Minister’s hand is extremely weak and everyone can see that is the case. She is no position to negotiate. The cards she has been dealt leaves her with no choice other than to pander to the demands of businesses threatening to set sail for a new home in (an EU member state within) Europe.
The UK Government is exposed to being held to ransom by big business and it will not be long before a gun is held to the heads of workers’ rights.
Tariffs, taxes, incentives, loan guarantees and all of the usual financial deals will be extracted from the government. But what big business has long disliked about EU law is its commitment to workers’ rights. Health and safety. Equalities. Working time. The list goes on and on. Removed from the “shackles” of EU law it will not be long before the first big business negotiating ('privately') what can be done to keep them in the UK will demand immediate changes to our laws on workers rights.
We are told the Prime Minister has a strong moral compass. So, are we left to rely on her moral compass to ensure that she will not sell out workers’ rights as she continues in her backroom deals to keep big business in Britain?
Yes we have to remain vigilant and watch all of these negotiations. Yes, we must be ready to expose light on anything that is done and call foul on Theresa May selling workers’ rights down the river. And yes, we must be ready to mobilise across the UK.
But has this not also left us in the equally inevitable position that for the sake of workers’ rights the time has come once again to have a mature discussion about the governance of Scotland? Has the Brexit vote, the greed of big business and the extremely poor negotiating power of the Prime Minister made a further referendum in Scotland inevitable?
We all know the answer to that question. It is yes (with a small Y).
Whether it is proper and full and Federalism or Independence, the majority of Scottish people no longer accept the current settlement. As a trade union lawyer I see far too many dangers for Scottish workers in the constitutional status quo.
Accordingly, we must frame the debate and act with all haste to ensure that Theresa May's ability to damage the rights of Scottish Workers is removed from her grasp and any influence of the Westminster Parliament.
Let the people decide - Federalism or Independence. And let them decide before the UK's formal Brexit.