Ever since the EU referendum we’ve been raising the alarm about what the government’s post-Brexit trade vision might mean for UK workers.
Just over a year ago, we warned that the international trade secretary Liam Fox’s ambition to replace Britain’s trade with the EU by boosting trade with the US and other countries was a dangerous pipedream.
We believe it’s highly unlikely that enhanced trade with the US could come close to replacing our trade with the EU, which makes up half of all UK trade.
So we’ve long wondered what exactly Dr Fox has in mind when he talks about building a ‘global Britain’.
Now it’s emerged that Fox has joined forces with the same right-wing thinktanks behind the Trump agenda to cook up a post-Brexit US-UK trade deal that would carve up our NHS, tear down hard-won workers’ rights, and rip up the UK’s high food safety standards.
The so-called “ideal UK-US free trade deal” was unveiled earlier this week by the Initiative for Free Trade (IFT) and the Cato Institute thinktanks – two organisations with close links to Fox and Trump.
Here’s five reasons why it would be disastrous for UK workers:
1. It risks a bonfire of rights and regulations
The proposed trade deal seeks to pull down many regulatory ‘barriers’ between the UK and the US. Right now, EU law protects workers’ rights, environmental standards and health and safety regulations in the UK. These standards are much lower in the US, so if the deal was implemented workers’ rights could be watered down and the UK could be forced to accept US products currently banned from the EU, such as GM foods, chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-injected meat.
2. It would leave the NHS wide open to privatisation
The model deal mirrors that of the now defunct TTIP agreement by taking a ‘negative list’ approach to service listing. This means that unless public services are explicitly excluded they can be opened to further privatisation. So if the government repeats what it did during the CETA negotiations and doesn’t list all the services involved in public service delivery, unlisted services will be fair game to private companies. This could allow big US health companies to start bidding for lucrative NHS contracts.
3. It would hold UK governments hostage to President Trump’s agenda
The deal would allow the US government to challenge the UK over any laws it thought discriminated against US companies or exporters in the UK under the ‘national treatment’ rules it would bring in. This could prevent a future UK government from introducing laws it thinks President Trump might challenge, such as increasing workers’ rights or nationalising public services and the railways.
4. It would leave our industries at the mercy of US tariffs
By limiting the trade defences that the UK could apply, the mooted agreement would reduce our ability to fight back against the imposition of further US. Tariffs. This would expose our manufacturing industries to more dumping from countries like China, risking thousands of jobs in steel, ceramics, glass and other manufacturing sectors.
5. It threatens public procurement
Opening government procurement markets to competition in the way proposed by this deal would prevent local authorities and other public bodies from favouring businesses that have collective agreements with unions and pay decent wages. This will make it much harder for national and local government to use their supply chain and employment practices to advance social and environmental causes.
This deal confirms all our fears about what Liam Fox had in mind we he boasted about creating a ‘global Britain’.
Far from being the “ideal UK-US free trade deal”, this trade agreement is a worker’s worst nightmare.
From threatening our public services to dismantling our environmental and labour standards, it represents everything that is wrong with the government’s approach to Brexit.
And it shows why we’ve long opposed trade deals that are negotiated behind closed doors without any workers’ representation in the room.
We know that workers simply won’t stand for a deal like this – and neither will we.
That’s why we’ll keep arguing that remaining in the single market and customs union is the best way to maintain trade with the EU and other countries, and to ensure workers in the UK are protected by the EU’s high standards of employment rights and health and safety protections
The choice is clear: a trade deal with Trump that attacks our employment rights, public services and jobs, or a good Brexit deal with the EU that protects all three.
Rosa Crawford is the TUC’s policy officer for International Relations and European Union. This article first appeared on the TUC Touchstone blog. Copyright © 2017 ToUChstone, Trades Union Congress.