By Rebecca Zahn
The British referendum on the country’s continued membership of the EU has dominated the political and media landscape both in the UK and abroad for the last few months. There has been a plethora of academic commentary on the possible consequences of a British exit (‘Brexit’). On 23 June, based on a turnout of 72%, 52% of the electorate voted for Leave, while 48% supported Remain. This narrow majority disguises dramatic differences between different regions: Scotland, Northern Ireland and large parts of London voted to Remain whereas substantial sections of Wales and most of England voted to Leave.
In the run-up to referendum day, workers’ rights were invoked repeatedly by both sides of the campaign as either a reason to back or oppose Brexit. Leave campaigners, such as Patrick Minford, Professor of Economics at Cardiff Business School, argued that the UK needed to reset its relationship with the EU to ‘jettison excessive protection and over-regulation, notably in the labour market’. Domestic employment laws originating from the EU legislature, such as the much vilified Working Time Directive, have often been described as a burden on business, inflexible, uncompetitive and inefficient. On the other hand, Remain campaigners such as Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the British Trades Union Congress (TUC), warned repeatedly that ‘working people have a huge stake in the referendum because workers’ rights are on the line’ and the link between the UK’s membership of the EU and better protection of workers’ rights featured heavily in campaign material opposing Brexit. Continue reading