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Will Brexit deal help low-paid, Bishop of Burnley asks

30 December 2020

North voices doubts on investment and pay despite EU deal


The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, with a print-out of the Brexit trade deal before a meeting of the Committee of the Permanent Representatives of the Governments of the Member States to the European Union in Brussels, on Christmas Day

The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, with a print-out of the Brexit trade deal before a meeting of the Committee of the Permanent Representative...

THE quality of the post-Brexit trade deal agreed last week should be measured by the extent to which it is good news for the low-paid, the Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North, has said.

The Prime Minister announced the deal as “the biggest trade deal yet” — “a deal that will protect jobs across this country and which will, if anything, allow our companies and exporters to do even more business with our European neighbours”.

He later told The Sunday Telegraph that it would provide new legislative and regulatory freedoms for “spreading the opportunity to deliver for people who felt left behind”. The Government, he said, “has a very clear agenda to use this moment to unite and level up and to spread opportunity across the country”.

On Wednesday, after Parliament was recalled, the House of Commons voted by 521 to 73 in favour of the EU (Future Relationship) Bill, which will bring the deal into law, once it has been given Royal assent. The UK will separate from the EU at 11 p.m. on Thursday, four and a half years after the referendum.

There had been strong support for Brexit in East Lancashire, Bishop North said, rooted in a deep-seated national pride. Most in the region would welcome the greater independence that the new deal promised. But, he warned, “We now face a period of great uncertainty. Amongst the factors that have impeded economic growth in post-industrial areas such as these are a culture of low pay and a lack of infrastructural investment.

“There is a risk that these problems are exacerbated once workers’ rights enshrined in EU law and grants available in the European Reconstruction Fund are gone. It is critical that the Government now uses its greater independence to deliver on promises multiply made; so that workers earn fair wages and wealth is redistributed from the south-east to the regions.”

Under the terms of the 1246-page agreement, which has been approved by EU member states and will be ratified in the coming weeks, there will be no tariffs on goods or limits on the amount that can be traded between the UK and the EU. Services, such as financial services, which make up 80 per cent of the UK economy, will no longer have unfettered access to the EU.

The free movement of people is ended. There is no longer any automatic recognition of professional qualifications such as doctors, nurses, and architects from EU countries. Britain will no longer be bound by judgments made in the European Court of Justice. It will no longer participate in the Erasmus exchange scheme for students.

The Minister for the Cabinet Office, Michael Gove, a key figure in the negotiations, has repeatedly insisted that a good trade deal would enable Britain to tackle the inequalities and injustices that had held the country back. Challenged by Nick Robinson on Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday to explain how the EU had prevented a Conservative government from tackling these for the past decade, he said that the EU had “constrained the way in which any of its member states can shape policy in the interests of its people”.

He went on: “Being outside the EU gives us extra tools in the box in order to deal with that particular challenge, but it’s not the only thing. It’s not that leaving the EU on its own can resolve these problems: it helps us to resolve these problems.”

PAThe cliffs of Dover reflected in the windscreen of a lorry waiting to enter the port in the week before Christmas

Mr Gove also said that investment in technologies such as genetic and life sciences could, in the future, “bring prosperity to parts of the country that have been under-invested in, and can also transform our lives for the better, have the chance to flourish”. He said, too, that the fishing industry would be in a stronger position than it was under the Common Fisheries Policy, and that there was now “a chance to invest in our coastal communities”.

The fishing industry, however, has described agreed quota shares in the deal as “minuscule, marginal, paltry, pathetic”. The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations said in a statement this week that, after a further five years’ adjustment, the UK’s share of Channel cod, for instance, would increase from 9.3 to 10.2 per cent.

“Throughout the fishing industry, there is a profound sense of disillusion, betrayal, and fury that after all the rhetoric, promises, and assurances, the Government caved in on fish. . . This was a decision taken at the highest political levels and it is important that responsibility is taken for the choices made. . . The fishing industry will want it clearly understood that the best opportunity for a generation for a different and better future has been squandered.”

The details of the agreement are still being scrutinised after the Christmas break. There are growing concerns for the low-paid care industry, where 104,000 EU nationals currently work, and which has 112,000 vacancies. It is estimated to need a further 130,000 workers just to cope with current social-care welfare needs, and the £25,000 earnings threshold for obtaining a “skilled” worker visa is likely to be a new barrier.

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