Brexit and the future of UK Employment Law

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The U.K. voted with its heart to leave the EU

-but what will it mean for employers and employees?

After ‘informal discussions’ and a scramble by our leaders to piece together a plan for how Brexit will work in practice, the UK will give notice of intention to leave under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

Immediate reactions by the leading figures in the ‘leave’ camp were that we should not rush to give notice under Article 50. However, it is becoming very clear that the rest of Europe will use all levers to pressure formal process as soon as possible. Delay will mean harm to relations with the rest of Europe and our chances of negotiating an acceptable trade deal.

Article 50 then provides 2 years for a ‘withdrawal agreement’ to be reached. This can be extended but only by unanimous consent. Only when the withdrawal agreement is complete will the UK cease to be a member of the EU.

So for at least 2 years there will be no changes to UK Employment Law; the Directives and the European Court’s decisions will remain binding for us.

Quite what the withdrawal agreement will look like is anyone’s guess, but to avoid calamity for the UK economy it is almost certainly going to result in the UK either remaining in the European Economic Area (EEA) or putting trade deals in place that require significant compliance with the EU’s rules and regulations.

Put simply: our trade partners in Europe won’t allow us to eat our cake and have it! So the likelihood of deep and meaningful changes seem small.

And when it’s all finally sorted?

The majority of the UK’s employment laws either pre-existed our treaty obligations or ‘gold plated’ what the EU required, so don’t expect Brexit to have a massive impact on employment rights. The tide in recent years has been toward eroding employee rights that were deemed inconvenient for business and pundits suggest that changes may include:

  • threshold for collective redundancy consultation reduced
  • TUPE prohibition on post transfer harmonisation relaxed
  • 48 hour maximum working hours removed

What happens will be in the hands of whoever constitutes our government after the withdrawal agreement: and there lies the really big question!

The Brexit vote cut across political party loyalties and quite how our existing bi-party system will re-shape to take account of the result, and whether the trend for deregulation will continue, remains to be seen.

The ride promises to be bumpy for the UK (and what will fall from the roof rack we cannot tell); we must trust that our nation’s spirit, determination and resourcefulness will see us to a prosperous future!