Labour says Johnson’s blueprint for Brexit will strip workers’ rights
Foreign secretary calls for both sides in 2016 referendum to unite behind Brexit
Boris Johnson delivering his Brexit speech in London on Wednesday. He said Britain must “take back control” of its regulatory framework. Photograph: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg
Anti-Brexit politicians from all parties, business groups and union leaders have dismissed an attempt by Boris Johnson to reassure former Remain voters that they had nothing to fear from leaving the EU.
The foreign secretary used the first of six speeches on Brexit by British ministers over the next three weeks to call for both sides in the 2016 referendum to unite behind Brexit.
However, Labour accused Mr Johnson of hypocrisy and using empty rhetoric, warning that his blueprint for Brexit would strip workers of the rights and protection they now enjoyed.
The foreign secretary said Britain must “take back control” of its regulatory framework to take advantage of what he described as the considerable economic opportunity of Brexit.
“It is only by taking back control of our laws that UK firms and entrepreneurs will have the freedom to innovate without the risk of having to comply with some directive devised by Brussels, at the urgings of some lobby group, with the aim of holding back a as UK competitor. That would be intolerable, undemocratic, and would make it all but impossible for us to do serious free trade deals.”
However, Mr Johnson distanced himself from the most hardcore Brexiteers by accepting that Britain will have to follow all EU rules during a transition period. And he acknowledged that “of course we will need to comply with EU regulation in so far as we are exporting to the EU” after the transition.
Although he declared his loyalty to prime minister Theresa May, Mr Johnson declined to rule out resigning from the cabinet over the next year if he loses the argument over Brexit.
Mr Johnson sought to reassure former Remainers that leaving the EU would not mean that Britain would become less internationalist in outlook or bring about a severing of cultural ties with Europe. And he warned Brexit’s critics against any attempt to reverse the outcome of the 2016 referendum.
“I fear that some people are becoming ever more determined to stop Brexit, to reverse the referendum vote of June 23th, 2016, and to frustrate the will of the people. I believe that would be a disastrous mistake that would lead to permanent and ineradicable feelings of betrayal. We cannot and will not let it happen.”
Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer said nobody would be fooled or reassured by what he called the foreign secretary’s empty rhetoric. He said the speech showed the government’s intention to push through “a Brexit of deregulation where rights and protections are casually cast aside, and where the benefits of the single market and the customs union are ignored”.
John Foster of the Confederation of British Industry said British businesses did not view regulatory alignment with the EU as a burden but as an advantage.
“Businesses aren’t looking for a bonfire of regulation – quite the opposite. Our aerospace, automotive and chemical sectors, to name a few, all have highly integrated European supply chains that benefit from consistent regulation.
“And securing alignment of data rules is vital to protect the thousands of innovative businesses that make up the UK’s £240 billion data economy.”