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6 March 2019

Theresa May’s latest workers’ rights concessions are unlikely to woo Labour MPs

May has two routes to win Labour votes: a cliff-edge tactic that looks likely to fail on 14 March, or softening Brexit in search of an enduring cross-party majority.

By Stephen Bush

The government has continued its attempts to woo Labour MPs with a new set of concessions over workers’ rights. 

MPs will be given the right to vote on whether to accept and incorporate any new labour market regulation that emerges from the European Union into British law under plans unveiled by Greg Clark.

The problem is a lot like the government’s offer of more money for towns: it’s both a very large concession considering that the likes of John Mann are ideologically committed to backing Brexit and any policy or financial concession that he asks for is a waste of the government’s money and time, and when you look at the detail of what’s on offer, it isn’t enough to win over Labour MPs who have signalled a willingness to back the deal. 

As far as workers’ rights go: what the government is offering is that any future guarantees on labour market rights will be subject to a majority vote in the House of Commons which is a) the constitutional reality, marketed as a shiny new concession and b) exactly what Labour MPs in the hunt for a deal and trade union leaders fear about Brexit: that hard-won concession on rights will no longer be protected by a double majority here at home and at a European level but will be winnowed away by the next Conservative majority government. 

The reality of course is that a group of Labour MPs are looking for a pretext to back a deal rather than holding out any serious hope that, outside the EU, they can achieve a lasting and enduring set of pledges on workers’ rights from a Conservative government. One of their number, Jim Fitzpatrick, is the latest to explicitly go on the record and say he will back the deal, telling the Mirror that he will vote for the deal on 12 March. 

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But that isn’t much of a coup for the government in that Fitzpatrick had already told the House in January that he was moving towards backing the deal, and he voted against Yvette Cooper’s amendment to seek an extension.  He’s one of the group of 30 or so Labour MPs whose existence makes it near impossible to see how a second referendum will happen but that group of 30 isn’t enough to pass May’s deal even if she does get a big enough set of concessions to win over the DUP and the majority of her own Brexiteers, which is not in of itself likely.

That means that May is going to have to start fishing in the much larger pool of Labour MPs who want to vote for a deal but not at any price. She has two routes to get those votes: the first is to take the United Kingdom to the edge of the cliff and to force through her deal that way. But that route looks likely to be taken from her on 14 March. That leaves only the second route: to soften Brexit in search of an enduring cross-party majority.