What Theresa May needs to protect during Brexit negotiations

As Theresa May has formally triggered the process for the UK to exit Europe, the government should work to safeguard the interests of social businesses. Today, the prime...

As Theresa May has formally triggered the process for the UK to exit Europe, the government should work to safeguard the interests of social businesses.

Today, the prime minister has signed the letter for Brexit, which gives notice under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. Mrs May has called on the British people to unite, as the process gets under way.

In response, Co-operatives UK’s policy officer, James Wright, has told the government that there are three overarching principles to protect co-ops:

  • Despite the Brexit workload for government, our basic policy needs must still be met
  • Co-operatives should not be put in a disproportionately worse position by the Brexit process
  • The potential for co-operatives to give people control and build a better economy should be harnessed.

In a draft document outlining a strategy for the sector, he said: “With the triggering of Article 50 and policymakers’ attention turning towards the Great Repeal Bill, we believe it is timely to put forward our key positions in relation to the second principle.

“Given the potential for co-operatives to give people control and build a better economy, there are also points where discussion of safeguards blends into discussion of opportunities.”

Related: What will Brexit mean for co-op retailers in the UK?

A summary of recommendations to the government include:

EU competition law

  • Specific accommodations for agricultural co-operatives within EU competition law need to be retained in full
  • Other sector-specific accommodations of economic co-operation within EU competition law need to be retained in full
  • More general accommodations for economic co-operation provided by the ‘acquis’ of EU law, including block exemptions and case law, must all be retained in full

EU co-operative law

  • Government should provide a steer as to its intentions regarding the Great Repeal Bill and the potential repatriation of European co-operative society law into UK law, taking account to risks and opportunities for existing UK co-operative law

Consumer, worker and environmental protections in the EU

  • Co-operatives require the retention of the protections for consumers, workers and the environment currently provided by EU law on the day of departure from the EU
  • We oppose the use of ‘delegated powers’ by government after Brexit to degrade current protections without proper public consultation and Parliamentary scrutiny

EU public procurement directives

  • The repatriation of EU procurement law should occur in such a way that the current UK Public Contract Regulations remain unchanged on the day of departure
  • We require assurances that government will not use ‘delegated powers’ after Brexit to change current regulations without proper public consultation and Parliamentary scrutiny
  • It is important that co-operatives and other social economy organisations are provided with an opportunity to participate fully in a review of UK public procurement regulations after Brexit

EU recognition of, and support for, co-operatives

  • The UK government should seek to replicate the official recognition of, and support for, co-operatives provided by the European Commission

EU structural and investment funds

  • Support for key co-operative development activities needs to be protected after Brexit
  • Co-operatives should be provided with an opportunity to participate in government’s review of structural and investment funds.

In the document, Mr Wright, adds that over a six-year period, co-operatives and the social economy across the UK, has received at least £82.6m in funding from the Regional Development Fund. He said: “While this represents only a small portion of total RDF spending, it has clearly been a significant source of development funding for the social economy.”

To put this policy document into action, Co-operatives UK is already working with the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs to ensure the UK’s future agricultural policy utilises farmer co-operation.

It will also open discussions with HM Treasury to provide a view on how the Great Repeal Bill is expected to deal with the European Co-operative Society legislation. In addition, it will also seek the relevant assurances from other government departments.

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