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Now that the dust has begun to settle on the outcome of the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU there are some interesting indications of a surprising new direction in the employment rights regime. While some had feared that Brexit would lead to a bonfire of UK employment rights - in particular those deriving from EU legislation Theresa May has defined her new premiership as being about making Britain “work for everyone” implicitly acknowledging this that may not have been the case under the previous Cameron administration.

In stark contrast to the anti employment regulation rhetoric associated with elements within that regime David Davis, the newly appointed "Secretary of State for Brexit” has stated in an article for Conservative Home “all the empirical studies show that it is not employment regulation that stultifies economic growth, but all the other market-related regulations, many of them wholly unnecessary.

Britain has a relatively flexible workforce, and so long as the employment law environment stays reasonably stable it should not be a problem for business.” He added for good measure, “The great British industrial working classes voted overwhelmingly for Brexit. I am not at all attracted by the idea of rewarding them by cutting their rights.”

Beyond that May has indicated that she plans to introduce worker representation on Company Boards, something that would have been dismissed as old fashioned and fanciful left wing extremism not so long ago by the Conservative Party but is now apparently mainstream thinking again given the failures of deregulated, winner takes all capitalism.

For their part the Labour Party, in the form of leadership candidate Owen Smith, is setting out his stall with a promise of a wholesale extension of collective bargaining, Trade Union and worker rights including employment rights “from day one” and the outlawing of zero hours contracts. Mr. Smith might himself concede that he is currently very far from implementing such proposals but the revival of support for employment rights across the political spectrum looks like part of a culture change which must surely count as the most paradoxical consequence of Brexit yet.

Eric Gilligan, Partner, Head of Employment

Chambers Leading Firm 2019

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