Government considers Labour amendment in bid to gain support for Brexit deal

The Government is considering accepting an amendment to the Withdrawal Agreement granting extra protections to workers’ rights and environmental standards in an effort to win Labour MPs’ support for the Brexit deal in next week’s vote. The amendment, tabled by Labour MPs John Mann, Caroline Flint, and Gareth Snell, would enshrine employment and environmental protections in UK law after Brexit. It has not yet been selected by the Speaker, John Bercow. This comes as Prime Minister Theresa May reportedly had phone calls with the general secretaries of unions Unite and GMB yesterday. Downing Street said the calls were “constructive.”

Meanwhile, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn yesterday said his party would neither “accept [n]or endorse” the amendment, as it does not go far enough on workers’ rights. General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), Frances O’Grady, said, “We’ve been clear that what working people need is a long-term, binding guarantee that their rights will keep pace with those across Europe. The amendment doesn’t deliver that. It doesn’t even provide an adequate guarantee for the rights we already have.”

Elsewhere, the Prime Minister’s spokesman yesterday commented on the amendment to the timetabling motion which requires the Prime Minister to outline an alternative Brexit plan if her deal is defeated next week, “[That] there would only be 90 minutes of debate on the motion is our understanding and only one amendment could be selected.” However, Chief Whip Julian Smith yesterday told the Commons, “No decision [on the procedure] has been made. The Government will do everything it can to ensure the House is fully consulted. The information is not correct.”

Separately, Conservative MP George Freeman told the Commons yesterday that he would now vote for the Prime Minister’s deal, having previously opposed it. He said, “I will, with a heavy heart on Tuesday, vote for this deal because we are now in the dying stages and No Deal is unconscionable. But I beg colleagues to ask their front benches to work together across the House in pursuit of something we can all be proud of.” Conservative MPs Trudy Harrison and Sir Edwards Leigh have also publicly said that they would vote for the deal, despite previously being opposed to it.

Aarti Shankar: Accepting Labour MPs’ amendment sends a useful political signal

In a new blog, Open Europe’s Aarti Shankar argues it “makes sense politically” for the government to accept an amendment by Labour MPs’ which calls for guarantees on workers’ rights and social, consumer and environmental standards after Brexit. She writes, “By supporting this, the government can try to respond to Labour’s concerns that the UK could fall behind in social and environmental standards post-Brexit. However, in substantive terms, the government has not conceded much: it does not alter the terms of the UK-EU agreement, and it does not bind the UK to follow future EU rules in these politically sensitive areas.” She concludes, “It is unlikely this move in of itself will convince enough Labour MPs for the deal to pass, but it is an important first signal that the government is beginning to reach across the House to find its majority. It also sends a message to Conservative hardliners that the direction of travel will only get softer if they fail to support the Prime Minister’s deal.”

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