Following the ‘Brexit’ referendum of June 2016, the UK left the European Union (EU) on 31 January 2020. Arrangements for how the relationship between the UK and the EU would be managed were laid out in the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement  of 2021. A transition period was in place between February and December 2020.

For a period of nearly 50 years – from 1973, when the UK joined the European Economic Community (subsequently the EU), to 2020 – the UK was bound to follow the EU in the field of employment, with the European Court of Justice (ECJ) acting as an enforcement body. UK employment law (eg. the Sex Discrimination Act 1975) was also an influential model within Europe.

The 2021 agreement contains a ‘non regression’ arrangement (article 387) which is a commitment to not reducing labour and social protections below the levels that were in place at the end of the transition period. The non-regression arrangement applies only where a reduction in protections affects trade and investment between the UK and the EU.

The agreement also includes a commitment (article 399) to implement the internationally recognised core labour standards defined in the Fundamental Conventions of the Independent Labour Organisation (ILO). This includes ‘the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation’.