Trade Deal Required To Avoid Legal Ambiguity In 11 Months
As the UK prepares to leave the EU this evening, employment lawyers at Irwin Mitchell are warning of an uncertain period ahead for both employers and employees when it comes to workers’ rights.
According to the national law firm, there could be a period of ambiguity which could make it more costly and difficult to resolve disputes in the workplace.
Expert Opinion“There will of course be no immediate changes to our laws, or the influence of the EU on them, because the UK has agreed to an implementation period which will end on 31 December. So, for 11 months, the UK will continue to follow EU rules and regulations, remain in the customs union and single market and the free movement of people will continue.
“What we do know is that the Withdrawal Act 2020 does not contain any reassurances about worker rights and, in fact, contains a mechanism to allow the government to ‘roll back’ employment protections by giving lower courts and employment tribunals the right to deviate from established European Court judgments.
“In other words, cases won’t have to go all the way to the Supreme Court, and in principle, lower courts can overturn established precedents – including those of the Supreme Court where these are based on EU interpretation.
“This could lead to significant changes because many UK laws interact with EU law including discrimination, TUPE, working time and redundancy.”
Sybille Steiner - Partner
Lawyers at Irwin Mitchell point out that much will depend on the future relationship the UK agrees with the EU. A paper on workers’ rights published in the House of Commons Library at the end of 2019 makes it clear that EU trade deals with ‘third countries’ contain ‘level playing field’ clauses on labour standards. This means that if the UK strikes a deal, it won’t be able to reduce workers’ rights below those currently set by EU law. This has been agreed in the non-binding political declaration between Boris Johnson and the EU.
Expert Opinion“Most commentators don’t think the UK will have a trade deal in place by end of the year – other than, perhaps, a very basic version. This would be the worst scenario and will create real uncertainty because neither businesses nor workers’ will be able to confidently know whether their existing rights will change.
“Ambiguity increases costs and will make it more difficult for parties to resolve their disputes." Sybille Steiner - Partner