Prime Minister David Cameron has abandoned his key negotiation plank of full British exclusion from EU employment laws ahead of the planned EU referendum. The move that could help Jeremy Corbyn lead left wing trade unions and the Labour Party into backing the ‘In’ campaign is likely to alienate further some eurosceptics torn between loyalty to the Prime Minister and opposition to the EU.
As recently as July it was reported Cameron would demand Britain’s freedom from most employment rules imposed on the UK by Europe. According to The Daily Telegraph he was going to “open up open a major new front in his battle with the EU” ahead of the EU referendum, specifically demanding the restoration of John Major’s Social Chapter opt-outs which Tony Blair dropped in 1998.
The man who in Opposition in 2005 told newspaper executives “I am the heir to Blair” is proving to be so now he is Prime Minister.
Having been told that both France and the European parliament strongly oppose any British exemption from EU employment and social laws, Cameron will now seek a more limited protection for Britain’s flexible labour market when negotiating in Spain and Portugal this week, reports the Financial Times.
The Prime Minister’s ‘watered down’ stance could help him strengthen a cross-party coalition for am ‘In’ vote in the EU referendum, specifically ensuring the “organisational muscle” and finances of left-wing trade unions will be employed alongside big business interests represented by the likes of the CBI.
Before the move this month’s Trades Union Congress was going to see several trade unions including the GMB arguing for Brexit, even more so if the EU negotiation won British exemptions from workers’ rights. The militant RMT rail union was going to reveal its new bloc of unions in favour of leaving the EU on the eve of the event.
Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour MP looking most likely to win the party leadership, previously refused to rule out campaigning for Brexit because the Conservative government favoured “trading away workers’ rights” and weaker environmental protection. Since then he has said he will fight to reform the EU from within and his hand will have been strengthened by the Prime Minister’s capitulation.
The latest moves may win friends from the left of British politics, but are likely to provoke a furious response from Conservative Eurosceptics. Having demanded radical reforms as a price for their support ahead of the EU referendum they are increasingly likely to be disappointed.
Steve Baker MP, leader of Conservatives for Britain, is reported in the Daily Express saying it is “increasingly clear that EU membership is not compatible with either parliamentary control of domestic law or our borders”. Meanwhile a Downing Street source dismissed the story as “pure speculation” saying “lots of noise” is expected around the process.