Pressure is piling on the government to ensure greater scrutiny of the Brexit deal. Will the TUC end up backing a 'people's vote'?
The TUC’s Frances O’Grady addressed Parliament’s Press Gallery on Tuesday. It was a light-hearted speech that won over many of the journalists there. And between the jokes there were some real insights into the union movement.
The General Secretary revealed that the Trade Union Congress will be getting a commemorative stamp for it’s 150th anniversary this year – mocking those who are plugging away for a Brexit stamp when we leave the EU.
She spoke of the need for unions to engage more young workers, with new initiatives underway to target union-shy millennials.
And she revealed that she had only met Theresa May once – fewer times than she’s met German leader Angela Merkel.
But Brexit did of course dominate – and that’s where a new perspective seemed to come to the fore.
Asked if she thinks there should be a vote on the Brexit deal, O’Grady responded:
“The TUC doesn’t have policy. We’ve got a congress coming up in September – it’s highly likely we’ll have a General Council statement alongside motions to be debated.
“But what we do say is that people should have a say – I don’t know whether that’s going to end up being a second referendum, it could be about parliament having a say on the deal, or who knows we could end up with another election, which some members of the Conservatives [support]. But we do think that people should have a say on the final deal.”
As O’Grady made clear, all this could simply mean is that people should keep an open mind, to see how things develop.
But it does represent suggest something of a shift in tone: that when it is presented, the Brexit deal on the table should not be seen as the final deal.
Campaigners for a ‘people’s vote’ on the deal have welcomed the comments.
Labour’s Susan Elan Jones MP, supporter of the People’s Vote campaign, told Left Foot Forward:
“Frances O’Grady is quite right…workers represented by the TUC deserve to have their voices heard once the terms of Brexit become clearer.
“Support is growing for people to have a say and for a People’s Vote on the Brexit deal.”
It has raised cautious hopes that the upcoming TUC Congress in September could see a marked shift in the union movement’s position on Brexit.
Eloise Todd, CEO of Best for Britain, said:
“I am hopeful that the TUC will come out for a final say on the Brexit deal through a vote. We trusted people with departure and we should trust them with the destination.
“Working people will feel the brunt of Brexit and we need to protect them. Every day shows why Brexit is a disaster for Britain and why we should think again.”
The deadline for Congress motions isn’t until August – and it is obvious that for many unions, Brexit is the biggest threat to jobs and conditions.
It will be no surprise that Brexit is likely to be a key issue at TUC Congress.
Any move towards backing a fresh vote – whether a referendum or new election – in the wake of a final deal – would be welcomed by parties such as the Greens and Liberal Democrats.
Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrat Brexit Spokesperson, said:
“Every day we are seeing more and more support for a final say on the deal which puts power back in the hands of the people.
“Theresa May is leading us towards a hard Brexit and possibly a no deal crash out and is running out of time to prove that she knows what she is doing.
“There is cross-party support for a final say, even if the PM and Jeremy Corbyn are doing their best to ignore the growing swell of public opinion in support.”
Let’s be clear – the TUC is unlikely to come out swinging for a ‘people’s vote’ any time soon.
But pressure is piling on the government from all quarters now: to ensure that voters’ concerns over everything from jobs to public services and our environment are protected if and when we leave the EU.
Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter.
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