Workers' rights at risk with new powers for UK courts

Post-Brexit Britain will see low-level courts empowered to overturn EU-guaranteed protections for workers and consumers.

    Boris Johnson posed with workers during election campaigning, having pledged to maintain EU standards of workers' rights [Frank Augstein/Pool/Reuters]
    Boris Johnson posed with workers during election campaigning, having pledged to maintain EU standards of workers' rights [Frank Augstein/Pool/Reuters]

    Workers' rights could be threatened in the United Kingdom as Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government prepares to give British judges new powers to overturn European Union laws and the rulings of the European Court of Justice once the country has left the EU.

    The changes could affect a host of rights - such as holiday entitlement, limits on working hours and the provision of sick pay - which had been guaranteed under Britain's membership of the EU. It could also affect consumer rights such as receiving compensation for delayed flights.

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    Theresa May, the former prime minister, had agreed to transfer existing European case law into British law following Brexit - which angered many hardline Eurosceptic Conservative MPs and corporate donors.

    It would have meant that only the Supreme Court and the High Court of Justiciary in Scotland were allowed to make "departures" from EU law.

    But the new prime minister's official spokesman said on Wednesday that Johnson's Brexit deal would now include a clause enabling the country's lower courts to overturn European rulings as well - making it easier, for example, for employers to challenge staff rights to carry over holiday entitlement while on sick leave, the Daily Mirror newspaper reported.

    "The bill will ensure that the Supreme Court is not the only institution able to consider retaining European Court of Justice rulings," the spokesman said.

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    "This is an important change which will ensure that we do not face a legal bottleneck and inadvertently stay bound by EU rulings for many years.

    "We will take back control of our laws and disentangle ourselves from the EU's legal order just as was promised to the British people."

    The move was welcomed by former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, now a leading figure in the pro-Brexit European Research Group.

    "This is a critical pledge that puts sovereign rights back in the hands of the United Kingdom government and of course the British people," he told the BBC.

    The clause will be contained in a revised version of the Withdrawal Implementation Bill, which is due to be introduced in the Commons on Thursday in advance of a second reading vote by MPs on Friday.

    Ministers are aiming for the legislation to complete its passage through Parliament in the new year, enabling the UK to leave with the deal agreed by Johnson in place at the end of January as planned.

    Downing Street has already said the legislation had been reworked to prohibit any extension to the transition period - which kicks in after Britain leaves - which would have enabled talks on a free trade deal to continue if there was no agreement reached by the end of 2020.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies