Boris Johnson has unveiled a new package of promises that Britain will bolster workers rights and environmental standards after Brexit, in a last-ditch bid to secure the support of Labour MPs ahead of a knife-edge vote on the prime minister’s new deal.
Downing Street has outlined plans to introduce a “parliamentary lock” on the UK’s future relationship with the European Union, a move it said would allow MPs to ensure new legislation is compatible with standards in the bloc.
After losing the support of the Democratic Unionist party, Mr Johnson spent a frenetic day on Friday urging Conservative and Labour MPs to join him in “getting Brexit done”.
Following conversations with Labour MPs, No 10 announced that after Brexit ministers would be obliged to make regular statements on the government’s objectives for the negotiations on the future partnership. This would then be subject to a vote in parliament.
Laura Pidcock, Labour’s frontbench employment rights spokesperson, said the move was an “empty gesture” that was “not worth the paper it’s written on”.
She said in a statement: “If Boris Johnson was committed to workers’ rights and environmental rights he wouldn’t have spent the last few weeks removing legally-binding commitments from the Withdrawal Agreement.”
Mr Johnson was confident on Friday that he could win the backing of most or all of the 28 Brexiter Tory rebels who defeated Theresa May’s deal, but he may need more than then 10 Labour MPs who have so far endorsed the new deal, pushing Mr Johnson closer to the 320 votes he needs to succeed.
Labour MPs have been told by their party leader Jeremy Corbyn that they will not be punished if they defy the party whip and back Mr Johnson’s Brexit plan on Saturday.
The prime minister has also offered new legislation to protect new staff at companies from wrongful dismissal — a move aimed at Labour politicians from Leave areas who are under pressure to see Brexit is delivered by October 31.
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “The UK has a long and proud tradition of leading the way in workers’ rights and environmental protections where we have always set a high standard.
“We recognise that MPs want to see these hard-won rights protected, not weakened by our departure from the EU and we are happy to ensure this is the case.
“Both the public and parliamentarians should be in no doubt that as we leave the EU we will maintain and increase these protections both via the Withdrawal Agreement and future legislation.”
Even if the move wins over Labour MPs, Mr Johnson will need to overcome an amendment tabled by Tory grandee Oliver Letwin and former cabinet ministers including Philip Hammond and David Gauke.
The Letwin amendment, also backed by Labour, would defer full parliamentary approval of Mr Johnson’s deal until the relevant implementing legislation is passed. Mr Johnson would in that case have to write a letter to the EU seeking a Brexit delay.
Although Mr Johnson could still press ahead to try to ratify the Brexit legislation — the Withdrawal Agreement bill — by October 31, the Letwin amendment would open the door to much lengthier parliamentary scrutiny and a likely delay to Britain’s exit.