Working Time Directive: Labour MEPs' defiance shows how little respect Blair now commands

PM’s cowardice and MEPs’ recklessness is a heavy blow to business and workers

STRASBOURG — The decision by Labour MEPs to vote in favour of scrapping Britain’s individual opt-out from the 48-hour maximum working week, in clear defiance of the Labour government, shows the extent to which Tony Blair has lost his grip on his government and party, North West MEP Sir Robert Atkins, said today.

Proposing to abolish the Working Time Directive opt-out - a move approved today by a majority of MEPs in the European Parliament - amounts to Labour’s first broken manifesto pledge, on the very first day of the new Westminster Parliament, he said.

The Labour government says it is in favour of retaining the opt-out. Labour’s 2005 election manifesto says: “Working hard with Labour MEPs, we are determined to remain leaders (in Europe)…we will take further action in Europe to ensure that EU regulations are proportionate and better designed.” However, Tony Blair has done nothing to stop Labour MEPs from voting to scrap the individual opt-out at every stage in the parliamentary process.

Sir Robert said:

“There could be no clearer sign of Tony Blair’s waning authority than the decision of Labour MEPs to vote in favour of abolishing the opt-out. The only alternative view is that the government is in fact quite prepared to see the opt-out go, and has been happy to let Labour MEPs follow their own agenda while spinning a very different line from London to woo the business vote.

“Either way, the abolition of the opt-out will have a devastating effect on British business. It’s also a serious blow to the two million workers who take advantage of the right to choose how long they work and how much they earn - a right that was secured for them by a Conservative government in 1993.

“It’s a bitter irony that a Labour government which claimed to be pro-business and in favour of individual choice has done nothing to rein in Labour MEPs. Labour has broken its first manifesto pledge within a week of the election. I hope some parts of the business lobby come to regret their fawning support for the Labour Party at the general election.

“If Europe is serious about reforming its economy to become more competitive, it should be seeking to legislate in favour of flexibility and growth, not in favour of excessive social regulation and red tape.

“Britain’s opt-out has been invaluable to our country’s economic flexibility, faster growth and attractiveness to investors.”

A Conservative Press Office briefing note on the Working Time Directive opt-out is available on request.

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