Umunna – Leave campaigners are chomping at the bit to undermine rights at work

Scrapping workers’ rights that are enshrined in EU law should be “in the mix” when Britain leaves the European Union, a prominent pro-Brexit MP has said. This is despite the Prime Minister’s pledge that “withdrawal from the EU will not lead to a diminution of employment rights.”

Asked on the BBC’s Daily Politics show today if the Government should “roll back limits on working hours and other employment rights”, Suella Fernandes MP said “it needs to be considered in the mix.” This comes two weeks after pro-Leave former cabinet ministers Michael Gove and John Whittingdale urged British business to lobby for cuts to employment rights guaranteed by EU law.

Commenting, Chuka Umunna MP, Chair of Vote Leave Watch, said:

“Despite their promises during the campaign, right-wing Leave campaigners are chomping at the bit to use Brexit to undermine vital rights at work.

“The EU has given us protections against discrimination in the workplace, the right to equal treatment for agency workers, more holiday pay and longer rest breaks, as well as much else. For these rights to be undermined by Brexit would be a real blow for working people.

“The Prime Minister needs to keep her promise, and tell her MPs she will have no truck with those who are trying to use Brexit to slash employment rights.”


Notes to editors:


Jo Coburn: “Let’s return to the issue of regulation, because I was asking you about employment laws. We’re bound by European standards at the moment. Do you think a Conservative government should roll back limits on working hours and other employment rights?”

Suella Fernandes: “I think that it needs to be considered in the mix. I think we need to take into account what the needs are of our employees, of our businesses, of our industries. Different industries and sectors have different needs for their workforce, and I think all of that needs to be part of a discussion and a policy needs to emerge.” 

Suella Fernandes, who has been Conservative MP for Fareham since 2015, campaigned to leave the EU:

Michael Gove and John Whittingdale’s remarks are reported here:

In a letter to Chuka Umunna MP in November, Theresa May said: “Both I and the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union have made very clear that withdrawal from the EU will not lead to a diminution of employment rights. As I have said, existing workers’ rights will continue to be guaranteed in law – and they will be guaranteed as long as I am Prime Minister. Indeed, this Government will see that workers’ rights are not just protected by enhanced.”


During the referendum campaign, Vote Leave repeatedly promised that Brexit would not be used to scrap employment rights:

  • Priti Patel, 02/05/2016: “By being able to take back control of the laws that we make, we can begin the process of auditing and untangling our laws from the Brussels red tape from that hits our businesses hardest. This is categorically not about rolling back workers’ rights.” Link.
  • Chris Grayling, 31/05/2016: “Let me make clear that I do not want to see social rights and protections diminished if we vote to leave the EU.” Link.
  • Boris Johnson, 10/06/2016: In the ITV debate, Boris Johnson said the Leave campaign was “determined to protect the workers”. Link.
  • Andrea Leadsom, 14/06/2016: “All of the EU legislation we have accepted since Tony Blair took us into the social chapter has been incorporated into UK law and will remain in place if we vote to leave. Any decision to simplify or change any of those laws would need voters’ consent. Our public holidays will also be protected and maternity and paternity leave will stay.” Link.
  • Priti Patel, 14/06/2016: “Let me be clear, very clear, on employment rights and the protection of workers’ rights that we are not looking to change those. So I will emphasise that again this evening. Those rights are enshrined by parliament, and which government would want to change that quite frankly? Supporting workers’ rights is absolutely the right thing to do and that’s part of our values that we have.” Link.
  • Boris Johnson, 14/06/2016: “Workers' rights are protected by our parliaments and our courts.” Link.
  • Boris Johnson, 21/06/2016: When asked “Can you promise us today you will protect every single right we have won through the EU” Boris Johnson said: “We have done already”. Link.
  • Andrea Leadsom, 21/06/2016: "We do not need unelected, bureaucratic European leaders to tell us what our workers’ rights can be." Link.
  • David Davis, 11/07/2016: “To be clear, I am not talking here about employment regulation.  All the empirical studies show that it is not employment regulation that stultifies economic growth, but all the other market-related regulations, many of them wholly unnecessary. Britain has a relatively flexible workforce, and so long as the employment law environment stays reasonably stable it should not be a problem for business. There is also a political, or perhaps sentimental point. The great British industrial working classes voted overwhelmingly for Brexit. I am not at all attracted by the idea of rewarding them by cutting their rights. This is in any event unnecessary, and we can significantly improve our growth rate by stopping the flood of unnecessary market and product regulation.” Link.
  • Vote Leave: “Workers’ rights are enshrined in UK law, which would not change if we Vote Leave.” Link.