David Cameron is to make an opt-out from EU employment social protection laws such as the working time directive and the agency workers’ directive one of his goals in his negotiations with Europe, according to reportsfrom Conservative political sources in Brussels.
If the prime minister achieves the demand as part of his renegotiation with his EU partners, it would be a body blow to efforts to persuade trade unions to support British membership of the EU on his new terms. Cameron has pledged to hold a referendum on those renegotiated terms by 2017.
No 10 would only say: “This is just more of the speculation we said there would be during the negotiation.
“The prime minister has set out the four priority areas for reform and made clear that cutting back on unnecessary EU regulation is part of making Europe more competitive. As the prime minister has said before, Europe if necessary, national when possible.”
A demand for Britain to be excluded from employment laws restoring the opt-outs negotiated by John Major and then abandoned by Tony Blair in 1997 would be a high-risk political move, since it would enhance the risk of a large no vote putting Britain’s entire relationship with the EU at risk.
Pro-Europe businesses would have to calculate whether the enhanced risk of a defeat in the referendum would be worth the prize of achieving the opt-outs.
The GMB and Unite unions have explicitly said they would challenge any attempt to opt out of UK social employment laws, including the agency workers directive.
There is already an increasingly Eurosceptic mood in parts of the left due to the imposition of austerity on Greece. But the move would please Conservative Eurosceptics who have been unimpressed by the modesty of Cameron’s demands.
Cameron has tried to keep the details of his negotiations secret in a bid to manage his own party and prevent a difficult autumn party conference.
The Times quoted a political source in Brussels as saying: “A big item is the return of the opt-out from social and employment legislation that would include the working time and temporary worker directives,.
“For later on, we want a protocol and line in a future treaty saying employment conditions are the responsibility of member states.”
Bernard Jenkin, the Tory MP for Harwich and North Essex and key Eurosceptic, dismissed opt-outs as “not worth the paper they are written on” and demanded a treaty change to repatriate employment powers before the vote.
“It has to be treaty change in advance of the referendum, returning employment and social legislation to national parliaments,” he said. “Otherwise it is just an empty promise.”
This article was written by Patrick Wintour, for theguardian.com on Saturday 11th July 2015 15.54 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010