Labour is seeking to protect workers’ employment rights from being abolished as part of ministers’ controversial retained EU law bill by forcing a Commons vote on the topic on Wednesday.
The party fears basic rights, including maternity protections and holiday entitlement, could be swept away under the government’s plans to “sunset” 4,000 laws derived from Brussels by the end of this year.
The bill, which returns to the Commons on Thursday, revokes all EU law that is not proactively adopted by the government.
A number of senior Conservative MPs have hit out at Rishi Sunak’s attempt to press ahead with the bill and have backed an amendment designed to give MPs greater oversight on the scrapping of thousands of EU laws.
They include: the leading Brexiter David Davis; the former justice secretary Robert Buckland; Caroline Nokes, chair of the Commons women and equalities committee; and Sir Bob Neill, chair of the justice committee.
The Labour MP Stella Creasy, who is leading the amendment and is chair of the Labour Movement for Europe, told the Guardian: “The consequences of accidentally deleting laws that affect people’s lives are huge. This bill represents a massive opportunity for a cock up, as a minister will hit the delete button on something they wouldn’t realise they have deleted.
“It’s nothing to do with Brexit, otherwise Brexiteers wouldn’t support the amendments we’re proposing. Deleting everything and giving ministers the powers to do this is not taking back control, it’s simply reinforcing control in Downing Street, not our parliament. Rishi Sunak has to stand up for parliamentary sovereignty.”
Reasserting Labour as on the side of the working people, the shadow employment minister, Justin Madders, said: “Yet again the Conservatives are trying to strip away the rights of working people and their protections at work.
“The government’s plans to allow the secretary of state to drop vital employment protections are an affront to British people’s hard-won rights at work.”
Labour’s move follows claims that human rights are being put at risk by the government’s rush to ditch up to 4,000 EU laws.
Human and equality rights organisations have written to the government to notify it they have identified a number of provisions in the retained EU law bill that “risk a breach” of the “international legal commitment” made in the Northern Ireland Brexit protocol to uphold the rights specified in the 1998 Good Friday agreement.
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission says that unless the bill is amended to address these concerns, “there is a risk that human rights and equality legislation relevant to protocol article 2 would not be preserved, restated or re-enacted in time”.
It also says the rush to enact the bill and expire EU legislation by the end of 2023 under “sunset provisions” would mean a “lack of consultation” with the bodies established to ensure equality and human rights are upheld in the post-conflict communities.
Article 2 of the protocol is based on the recognition that equality and human rights are central to the Good Friday agreement. In addition, it guarantees the UK government will “keep pace” with EU equality laws to ensure the agreement is upheld in all its parts.
It cites these along with six other directives that underpin the peace accord, including the victims’ directive, the parental leave directive and the pregnant workers’ directive.
Sunak’s official spokesperson said ministers “clearly have a grip on what needs to be done”, adding that “the public wants to see is action taken quickly”.
Asked for the timeline for updates on the initiative, he said: “I think some of this work can be done and introduced quite quickly. Some will take more time to develop, but it will be departments that will provide updates.”