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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

UK risks EU retaliation if workers’ rights are rolled back

IPPR trade and EU relations expert says leaked proposal to cut working time protections would also be damaging and deeply unpopular

On Friday leaked reports in the Financial Times suggested that the government is considering rolling back EU derived working time and holiday pay rules.

IPPR’s analysis of the trade deal, published the day after Boxing Day, warned that the deal gave ministers considerable scope to roll back workers’ rights and environmental protections.

A 2018 IPPR study showed that rolling back the Working Time Directive would be unpopular with both ‘remainers’ and ‘leavers’ with around three quarters saying they should be ‘retained or tightened’ rather than ‘relaxed or removed’.

Marley Morris, IPPR Associate Director for Immigration, Trade and EU Relations, said:

“Today's report in the Financial Times that the government plans to 'rip up' EU working time rules would be bad for workers, damaging for UK-EU relations, and deeply unpopular with the public.

“The proposal would risk retaliation from the EU for breaking the 'level playing field' commitments in the UK-EU trade agreement, including the potential triggering of tariffs on UK exports. While the agreement does not prevent reductions in labour standards in all instances, it does so where it can be proved that there is an impact on trade or investment between the UK and the EU. This flagrant act of deregulation could meet that test.

“We also know that ripping up working time regulations would have little public support. Our 2018 study of attitudes to EU regulations found around three quarters of the public supported maintaining or tightening working time rules, including strong support from both remainers and leavers."


Marley Morris is available for interview


Robin Harvey, Digital and Media Officer: 07779 204798 [email protected]


  1. The IPPR paper, The Brexit EU-UK trade deal: A first analysis by Marley Morris, is available for download at:
  2. The 2018 polling on working time is available in the IPPR report Leaving the EU, not the European model? New findings on public attitudes to Brexit which can be downloaded here:
  3. Figure 1 from the above publication:

  1. Further IPPR research on post-Brexit workers’ rights is available in the 2018 report A Level Playing Field for Workers: The future of employment post-Brexit by Marley Morris:
  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.