The March 2019 deadline for negotiating terms for the UK’s departure from the European Union is fast approaching, while major points of contention between London and Brussels still remain to be ironed out. While the likelihood of a “no-deal” Brexit, in which the UK would crash out of the EU with no special trade arrangements, is generally considered low, the final outcome remains uncertain with just six months to go, so British companies like London-based financial firms have been taking steps to prepare for that contingency. At the same time, European manufacturers operating in the UK have made clear that they might have to pull out of the country if the deadline passes without a deal, as the removal of the UK from the European customs union would be hugely disruptive to their supply chains.
At the same time, Europeans already living legally in the UK have been assured that they will be allowed to remain under any deal, but it is less clear what will happen to them if there is no deal. Trade unions and other labor groups have also expressed concern that Brexit could mean a reduction in the rights employees enjoy under labor laws grounded in EU policies. The bill drafted last year for removing the UK from the legal, political, and financial institutions of the EU preserves regulations derived from European labor laws, but employee advocates still fear that a weakening of these rights is in the pipeline; the possibility of a no-deal outcome compounds those suspicions.
In the past week, the government has issued several statements meant to reassure employees and employers that a no-deal Brexit remains unlikely and will have no such dire consequences if it does occur. A guidance document issued last week as part of a series of advice papers concerning a potential no-deal Brexit addressed the issue of workers’ rights, saying there would be no change to these protections in any event, Personnel Today reported:
[T]he government said domestic legislation already exceeds the level of employment protection provided under EU law. It intends to make small amendments to the language of workplace legislation to reflect that the UK will no longer be a member of the EU. No policy changes will be made.