Think Tanks
Printable version

IPPR - No-deal warning: The workers’ rights most at risk from a no-deal Brexit

IPPR think tank finds whilst protections will remain in place on day one of no-deal, government can deregulate and weaken rights subtly over time

Beyond no-deal ‘day one’ the UK government will have considerable scope to repeal or weaken current labour and social standards derived from EU law. A report from the think tank IPPR warns that rather than a brazen act of repeal, hard won rights could instead be weakened gradually over time via secondary legislation.

EU social policy on areas such as working time, holiday pay, health and safety, working conditions, and rights to parental leave amongst many others could be eroded after a no-deal, according to IPPR. This uncertain future is exacerbated by signals from the current government that they wish to diverge on regulations from the EU.

Day one after a no-deal

The UK would no longer be subject to EU law and there would be no transition period, but the passing of the EU Withdrawal Act in 2018 ensures that EU law is converted into UK law – creating a new body of legislation known as ‘retained EU law’.

The report explains that converting some aspects of EU law is incoherent in the domestic setting, particularly where law is linked with EU institutions and activities. To correct this the government has put forward technical statutory instruments, which bar a few exceptions means continuity of labour law on day one.

After no-deal day one

But there are no guarantees that after day one EU labour and social rights will be retained. The report says that without the enforcement powers of EU institutions such as the European Court of Justice, there is considerable scope for the UK government to amend or remove EU retained law.

In order to change retained EU law, the government will need to introduce new legislation. Depending on how the retained EU law is categorised, social and labour rights to a greater or lesser extent at risk.

Table EU derived labour and social rights.PNG

Least at Risk

Primary legislation such as the Equality Act is most protected from amendments as, unless Henry VIII powers are used, this would require a Bill passing through the House of Commons and the Lords. In a hung Parliament scenario, it is extremely unlikely a bill proposing reductions in labour and social protections could secure a majority.

At Risk

Secondary legislation originally made under the European Communities Act (ECA) such as working time regulations are more at risk, since amending this legislation generally involves significantly less parliamentary scrutiny than primary legislation. However, there will be less scope for amending these regulations compared to other secondary legislation, because once the European Communities Act is repealed their parent act will have disappeared.

Most at Risk

The area most at risk is secondary legislation made under acts of parliament other than the ECA, because there is greater scope for amending this legislation via powers under their parent acts. Examples of labour legislation falling under this category include the Part-Time Workers Regulations and the Fixed-Term Employees Regulations.

The Future

Even if the government does not choose to lower standards, it is possible that the UK will fail to keep pace with EU protections. In recent months the EU has already introduced new directives enhancing workers’ rights – for instance, an annual allowance of 5 working days of carers’ leave – and it is unclear if the UK will adopt them.

The report concludes that the government is unlikely to repeal flagship EU legislation. Instead the government will likely subtly loosen current protections, resulting in the UK’s protections gradually drifting part from the EU model and weakening over time.

Marley Morris, IPPR Associate Director, said:

“A no-deal poses a clear risk to the protection of workers’ rights. While on day one of a no-deal Brexit we would expect the vast majority of workers’ rights deriving from the EU to stay in place, over time there will be much more scope for these rights to be watered down. Rights especially at risk include current protections for part-time and fixed-term workers, because they can be more easily amended by secondary legislation.”


Robin Harvey, Digital and Media Officer,


  1. The IPPR paper, ‘No-deal Brexit: the implications for labour and social rights’ by Marley Morris, was published on Monday 14 October. It is available for download at: no-deal-brexit-implications-for-labour-and-social-rights
  2. IPPR is the UK’s pre-eminent progressive think tank. With more than 40 staff in offices in London, Manchester, Newcastle and Edinburgh, IPPR is Britain’s only national think tank with a truly national presence.
Original article link:

Share this article

Latest News from
Think Tanks