It has been just over a year since the UK and the EU signed the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), the deal providing the basis for their post-Brexit relationship. One of the most important and contested parts of the agreement was the so-called ‘level playing field’ – the arrangements for preventing either side from gaining an unfair competitive advantage over the other. This applied to a number of areas of regulation, including state subsidies, competition, taxation, environment and climate policy, and – most importantly for this briefing – labour and social standards.

The government has recently set out plans to reform ‘retained EU law’. However, it is not clear what this means for the future of retained EU law relating to labour standards and how this might interact with the level playing field provisions agreed within the TCA.

Civil society organisations have warned about the risks of the UK diverging from the EU’s economic and social model. Trade unions in particular have expressed concern that the UK could ‘fall behind’ the EU on labour standards and that the newly announced reviews of retained EU law pose a risk to current protections.

This short briefing sets out the implications of the level playing field provisions in the TCA for any future UK reforms relating to workers’ rights. It aims to provide an insight into how the level playing field might work in practice and to what extent it upholds labour and social protections for workers in the UK.