Senior Tory minister admits Halloween Brexit ‘very difficult’ as row erupts over workers’ rights

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A senior government minister admitted it was “very difficult” for Britain to leave the European Union in five days’ time.

Business Minister Kwasi Kwarteng blamed Speaker John Bercow for giving “unprecedented” powers to opposition MPs, allowing them the opportunity to pass the Benn Act, which demanded Brexit be delayed if a deal had not been ratified by 19 October.

Business Minister Kwasi Kwarteng said it would be very difficult for the UK to leave the EU on Halloween. Pictures: PA and AP

Business Minister Kwasi Kwarteng said it would be very difficult for the UK to leave the EU on Halloween. Pictures: PA and AP

The Tory MP, who attends Cabinet, also said reports that the government could cut workers’ rights after Brexit – despite commitments made to both the EU and MPs – were “way exaggerated” and “completely mad”.

The Prime Minister last week complied with the stipulations of the law by sending a letter to Brussels requesting an extension.

“I think it will be very difficult to leave on 31 October precisely because of the Benn Act, the surrender act, which essentially gave authority to the EU about whether we will leave on 31 October or not,” Kwarteng told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

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“It looks like they may well give us an extension.

“I think it is sad if we don’t leave on that date.

"The reason we are not doing that is because of the Benn Act and the Speaker allowing unprecedented moves.

"They took control of the order paper and passed this act in record time.”

Deliberations among EU ambassadors over a Brexit delay have continued into the weekend.

A final decision on whether they will opt for an extension until January or a shorter November delay – thought to be favoured by French president Emmanuel Macron – is not expected until tomorrow or Tuesday.

The weekend talks among the EU27’s teams are likely to be coloured by a leaked document, seen by the Financial Times, that indicates the government could look to diverge away from the bloc’s rules on workers’ rights and environmental protections after Brexit.

There are fears in some quarters of the EU – and especially in Berlin – that Boris Johnson is preparing to reform Britain into “Singapore-on-Thames”, a low-tax, lightly regulated economy on the edge of Europe, once it has left.

"Room for interpretation"

According to the FT’s report, the leaked Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) document said the way the political declaration – the agreement setting out the aims of the future trade negotiations between the UK and the EU – had drafted the workers’ rights and environmental protection commitments left “room for interpretation”.

The Prime Minister this week told MPs the UK was committed to “the highest possible standards” in both areas, a stance that helped to convince 19 Labour MPs to back his Withdrawal Agreement Bill at second reading last Tuesday.

Kwarteng called the reports “way exaggerated” and would be “completely mad” from the government’s perspective.

“It wouldn’t make any sense at all to dilute workers’ rights in building that coalition to land the bill,” he told the BBC.

The document is said to boast that “UK negotiators successfully resisted the inclusion of all UK-wide level playing-field rules” in the previous deal negotiated by Theresa May’s team, allowing Britain to compete against EU members by possibly watering down rights.

Labour shadow Brexit minister Jenny Chapman said the documents, which reportedly had Downing Street input, “confirm our worst fears”.

She said: “Boris Johnson’s Brexit is a blueprint for a deregulated economy, which will see vital rights and protections torn up.”

A senior union leader warned that the Prime Minister is trying to rush through a “dodgy banger” of a Brexit deal that will ruin UK manufacturing.

Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, said Johnson was trying to use the UK’s exit from the EU to reverse advances in workers’ rights.

He told the union’s Scotland policy conference in Ayr that vital customs arrangements supporting manufacturing jobs could be destroyed.

“Mr Johnson does not want us peering too closely at his Withdrawal Agreement bill. Like a dodgy used car salesman, Johnson didn’t want us checking over the goods.

“The truth is Boris Johnson is prepared to risk hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs to appease a handful of rabid right-wingers.