In the emergency Parliamentary session on Saturday, 19 October, the Leader of the Official [Labour] Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, stressed - in responding to Prime Minister Johnson’s report back to the House of Commons from the agreement struck on a Brexit deal at the European Council in Brussels on 17 October - that Labour held a number of very serious reservations, including the following:
“The Government have sought to avoid scrutiny throughout the process. Yesterday evening, they made empty promises on workers’ rights and the environment—the same Government who spent the last few weeks negotiating in secret to remove from the withdrawal agreement legally binding commitments on workers’ rights and the environment.
This Government cannot be trusted, and the Opposition will not be duped; neither will the Government’s own workers. Yesterday, the head of the civil service union Prospect met the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and, at the conclusion of that meeting, said:
“I asked for reassurances that the government would not diverge on workers’ rights after Brexit… He could not give me those assurances.”
As for the much-hyped “world-leading” Environment Bill, its legally binding targets will not be enforceable until 2037. For this Government, the climate emergency can always wait.”
The shadow Brexit Secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, followed-up on these concerns, in his forensic dissection of the changes made by the Johnson administration to the earlier 586-page Agreement reached by the predecessor Conservative prime minister, Theresa May, in the negotiations for a revised Withdrawal Agreement from the European Union.
Sir Keir emphasised: “
“There has been a lot of attention on how the deal operates in Northern Ireland, and rightly so, but that should not be allowed to mask the political project that is driving this deal. That is why Labour has focused on the political declaration, and any examination of the detail of that political declaration reveals its true purpose and the intent of the deal.”
He went on to argue:
“It is obvious where the Government are going. They want a licence to deregulate and diverge. I know they will disavow that, I know they want the deal through, and I know they will say, “Never. Of course not”, but it is obvious where it leads. Once we have diverged and moved out of alignment with the EU, trade will become more difficult. The EU will no longer be seen as our priority in trade and the gaze will go elsewhere to make up for it. Once we move out of alignment, we will not move back, and the further we move out, the harder it will be to trade with the EU27, and once that happens, we will have broken the economic model we have been operating under for decades, and we will start to look elsewhere—across to the United States.
Our gaze will shift to the United States, and that is a different economic model. It is not just another country; it is a different economic model, a deregulated model. In the US, the holiday entitlement is 10 days. Many contracts at work are called contracts “at will”. Hugely powerful corporate bodies have far more power than the workforce. This is not a technical decision about the EU but a political direction of travel that takes us to a different economic mode—one of deregulation and low standards, where the balance between the workforce and corporate bodies is far worse.”
A key question arises: why does the Labour front bench hold with such suspicion the motives towards deregulation by Boris Johnson and his cabinet members? The answer lies in collectively authored book – Britannia Unchained, published in the summer of 2012- by five Conservative MPs, all of whom are now ministers, with three in the Tory cabinet.
The Independent’s then chief political reporter, Andy McSmith, explained what these Conservative MPS had argued:
“The British are among the world's idlest workers, according to five up-and-coming Tory MPs .. Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel, Dominic Raab, Chris Skidmore and Elizabeth Truss, all from the 2010 intake of new MPs – want British people to work harder and relax less.
‘The state has made Britons idle,’ they argue. ‘Our culture of instant gratification ignores the years of persistence that lie behind real success. Too many people in Britain prefer a lie-in to hard work.’"
The MPs claim: "We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor. Where Indian children aspire to be doctors or businessmen, the British are more interested in football and pop music."
(Tories: Britons among 'world's idlest workers'; Independent, Saturday 18 August 2012; https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/tories-britons-among-worlds-idlest-workers-8057360.html)
An article on the BBC web site added:
“The five MPs - who are all members of the Free Enterprise Group of Tory MPs - say the UK needs to reward a culture of "graft, risk and effort" if it is to compete with fast-growing nations. "Britain will never be as big as China and Brazil but we can look forward to a new generation, ready to get to work," they argue in excerpts of the book
"If we are to take advantage of these opportunities, we must get on the side of the responsible, the hardworking and the brave. We must stop bailing out the feckless, avoiding all risk and rewarding laziness," they added
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber observed: "It's not the UK work ethic which is holding the country back but a lack of demand in the economy - a situation that is being made considerably worse by government spending cuts,” adding: "Economic success won't come about by turning the screw on British workers, but by investing significantly in jobs, skills and infrastructure for the future."
(“British workers 'among worst idlers', suggest Tory MPs”; BBC, 18 August 2012; https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-19300051)
This shows the crucial importance of very detailed scrutiny of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) in the House of Commons, and why all opposition MPs and sensible Conservative MPs should not agree to any curtailment (“guillotining”) of time to properly assess the implications of this new treaty.
Britannia Unchained: Global Lessons for Growth and Prosperity is a political book written by several British Conservative Party right-wing MPs and released on 13 September 2012. Its authors present a treatise, arguing that Britain should adopt a different and radical approach to business and economics or risk "an inevitable slide into mediocrity".
The book is written by Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel, Dominic Raab, Chris Skidmore and Elizabeth Truss, five Conservative MPs who were elected in May 2010 and belong to the party's Thatcherite-leaning Free Enterprise Group. The text sets out their vision for the United Kingdom's future as a leading player in the global economy, arguing that Britain needs to adopt a far-reaching form of free market economics, with fewer employment laws and suggesting the United Kingdom should learn lessons from the business and economic practices of other countries, including Canada, Australia and the tiger economies of the Far East like China and Singapore. Four of the five co-authors became part of the cabinet of Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2019.
An article written by four of the authors for the ConservativeHome website and published on the day of the book's publication said: "We are convinced that Britain’s best days are not behind us. We cannot afford to listen to the siren voices of the statists who are happy for Britain to become a second rate power in Europe, and a third rate power in the world. Decline is not inevitable".
The book asserts that the UK has a “bloated state, high taxes and excessive regulation”. It then says:
“The British are among the worst idlers in the world. We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor. Whereas Indian children aspire to be doctors or businessmen, the British are more interested in football and pop music.”
It says the UK should “stop indulging in irrelevant debates about sharing the pie between manufacturing and services, the north and the south, women and men”.
The content suggests that Britain has lessons to learn from a number of other countries regarding policy which it claims are outperforming the United Kingdom and sets out the areas where the United Kingdom needs to rethink its strategy, citing examples of countries which the authors believe have been successful in these areas. On deficit reduction, the example of Canada during the 1990s is given, where overall spending was reduced by 20% between 1992 and 1997. On education, the authors lament the relatively low number of students who study mathematics at A Level which they say is 15%, contrasting it with Japan where 85% study the subject at a similar level. In the realm of business and economics, Israel is cited as an example of a country that supports innovation while the United States is given as an example of a nation that supports risk-taking. The willingness of Britain's employees to work hard is compared to that of workers of other countries, with suggestions that a decreasing number of Britain's workers are contributing towards economic growth through which state spending is enabled to be maintained. It is asserted that this undermines the United Kingdom's competitiveness.
The book caused controversy in August 2012 after a short extract appeared in London's Evening Standard which accused British workers of laziness and lagging behind their Asian counterparts. The comments were criticised by union leaders, among them the General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress Brendan Barber: "The problem with the UK economy is not its workers, but a severe lack of jobs". The Labour Party urged British Prime Minister and Conservative leader David Cameron to distance himself from the views and the Shadow Secretary of State for Business Chuka Umunna commented: "First they blame British businesses for their economic failures and now they blame the people who work within them, showing how out of touch the Tory party has become".
Writing for the New Statesman, Jonathan Portes criticised the accuracy of the content, saying the book contained "factual errors" and evidence of "slipshod research" by the authors: "The authors of Britannia Unchained – five Conservative MPs including Elizabeth Truss and Dominic Raab – argue that Britons are 'idlers . . . obsessed with the idea of the gentleman amateur'. Sadly, so far the reaction to the book has proved their point. They've had headlines in the Daily Mail and The Telegraph and The Guardian has marked them out as the young Tories to watch. Job done. Yet they’ve done it without doing any serious research, let alone thinking about what that research might mean. They have joined the political version of celebrity culture – the same culture that they argue, to some extent compellingly, makes Britons believe they can get on without doing any hard work".
- ^ Jump up to: a b c d Beckett, Andy (22 August 2012). "Britannia Unchained: the rise of the new Tory right". The Guardian. Guardian Media Group. Retrieved 1 September 2012.
- ^ Jump up to: a b ""Factual errors" and "slipshod research" - the Britannia Unchained Tories must try harder". The New Statesman. 13 September 2012. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
- ^ Eaton, George (24 July 2019). "Britannia Unchained: the free-market book that defines Boris Johnson's new cabinet". The New Statesman. Retrieved 25 July 2019.
- ^ Jump up to: a b Skidmore, Chris; Kwarteng, Kwasi; Raab, Dominic; Patel, Priti (13 September 2012). "Britain's best days are not behind us Comment". ConservativeHome. Conservative and Unionist Party of the United Kingdom. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
- ^ https://www.ft.com/content/8109784a-f82c-11e1-bec8-00144feabdc0
- ^ "British workers 'among worst idlers', suggest Tory MPs". BBC News. BBC. 18 August 2012. Retrieved 1 September 2012.
- ^ Jump up to: a b Ramesh, Randeep (17 August 2012). "Tory young bloods say Britons are idlers who need to emulate Asia". The Guardian. Guardian Media Group. Retrieved 1 September 2012.