Priti Patel MP, one of the leading proponents of leaving the EU, said to the Institute of Directors that ‘[i]f we could just halve the burdens of the EU social and employment legislation we could deliver a L 4.3 billion boost to our economy and 60,000 new jobs ’. Liam Fox MP, who became Secretary of State for International Trade, had expressed similar sentiments prior to the referendum campaign: ‘[t]o restore international competitiveness we must begin by deregulating the labour market. Political objections must be overridden’. His remarks re-emerged during the referendum campaign.
The Remain campaign, galvanised by these and other observations, responded. The StrongerIN website said:
‘EU laws protect your rights in the workplace, meaning no government can scrap them.
Being in the EU protects your right to paid holiday leave, maximum working hours, equal treatment for men and women, rights for part-time workers, health and safety standards, parental leave, and protection from discrimination on the grounds of sex, race, religion, age disability and sexual orientation.
If we left the EU, your workers ‘rights would be up for debate and vulnerable to being scrapped. There could be years of uncertainty for you and your employers.’
Francis O ‘ Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, echoed these views:
‘Leave the EU and lose your rights at work – that's the message that even Leave campaigners like Priti Patel are now giving. But which rights would go – your right to paid holidays, your right to parental leave, maybe protections for pregnant workers? The EU guarantees all these rights and more, and it's why Brexit is such a big risk for working people.’
The vote to leave on 23 June 2016 therefore suggested a victory for those calling for a smaller state and less (employment) regulation.
But the Prime Minister, Theresa May, who came into office in July 2016, did not appear to share those views.