As the TUC prepares to meet in Manchester, it’s time the unions welcomed Brexit

As the TUC prepares to meet in Manchester, it’s time the unions welcomed Brexit

Hopes for an outright re-run of the EU referendum seem to have faded, at least as far as the TUC is concerned. Not that the hard Remainers have given up on their hope to reverse Brexit or at least delay it. Every trick is being used, including another phase of Project Fear and one or two polls manoeuvred to show a majority for revisiting the referendum through a so-called People’s Vote.

Understandably, neither of the two motions at the forthcoming Trades Union Congress in Manchester that propose a second referendum makes any link to the much-hyped but intellectually-challenged People’s Vote campaign supported by anti-Labour Anna Soubry and Vince Cable and anti-Corbyn Chuka Umunna and Lord Adonis.

The majority of motions at this year’s TUC deal with post-Brexit Britain: the need to establish ‘evidence-based regulation… for the proper functioning of our economy, the health and wellbeing of our society, and environmental protection’ from Prospect; the call for the TUC to campaign for ‘a world-class education system [and] that a post-Brexit Britain will require investment in our children and young people’ from National Association of Head Teachers; and from the British Dietetic Association the need to ensure that ‘Brexit must not be an opportunity for further corporate capture of market power’.

There are only two motion where a second referendum is mentioned: one from the Transport Salaried Staff Association calling on the TUC to campaign for a referendum on the final deal and the second from the Royal College of Midwives asking Congress to keep this option open. Unite calls for a campaign against a deal that does not meet Labour’s six tests without providing any specific details, while the CWU wants to use Brexit to force a general election.

TSSA’s motion is superficially appealing for it has a whiff of democracy about it. It argues that just as trade union members are given a final say on any new deal negotiated on their behalf, so ordinary people should have ‘the right to have a final say through a referendum on any Brexit deal’. But the two situations are not analogous. When a trade union decides to put in a claim, union representatives present the claim to the employer and following negotiations, they report back to the members and if there was a deal to consider, the members vote to accept or reject the deal. If the deal was found to be unacceptable, it would be an opportunity to promote the claim, to take steps to press it further; it certainly wouldn’t be an opportunity to call the whole thing off, but this is precisely what the call for a referendum on the final deal is all about.

The democratic process of trade unions with members having the final say on a proposed deal is designed to advance the original claim and enforce it through further action; TSSA’s ‘ordinary people having the final say’ on a Brexit deal seeks to undermine and reverse it. As the millionaire Julian Dunkerton who donated £1m to People’s Vote put it: ‘We have a genuine chance to turn this round’.

While the TSSA motion claims to ‘respect the outcome of the 2016 referendum’, it cynically schemes to reverse it. The TUC has so far refused to endorse a second referendum along the lines of the TSSA and no doubt will continue to do so, settling instead for a composite that will ‘keep the option open’. Having a second referendum if the first went ‘the wrong way’ is the practice of the EU and one of the reasons why many people wanted out of that undemocratic institution. It is not the practice of the trade union movement – it is inconsistent with our democratic traditions.

Attempting to force a general election by opposing any deal that the Government comes back with is dangerously misconceived; on the one hand it will weaken the hand of the Government in the crucial final stages of negotiating a deal with the EU and, on the other hand, delays Brexit – neither of which will endear itself to Labour supporters. All along, workers have been consistent and steadfast urging the Government and Parliament to get on with it. The time to force a general election is after 29th March next year, when the finishing line has been crossed and there is no way back. Then and only then can Labour fully engage workers in conversation about the type of country we want because then, and only then, will we have the freedom to determine our own future policies.

Labour MPs who use the fact that their constituencies have voted Remain as a basis for obstructing or reversing Brexit are letting the Labour Party and its natural supporters down. Although MPs represent local constituencies, they are also members of a national parliament that determines the direction of the nation as a whole in accordance with the wishes of the majority of its people. The people, 33.5 million of them – the highest ever number of participants in a vote – have spoken and the majority, 17.4 million, voted for Brexit. The fact that a local constituency voted Remain in the EU referendum does not override an MP’s overriding responsibility to the country as whole in the same way as a branch representative finding herself or himself on the wrong side of a vote to take strike action is not entitled to obstruct industrial action, let alone stop it.

The message to the TUC from its own members is ‘move from respecting the result of the referendum to welcoming it’ – because it’s outside the EU that the country can be truly free and prosper.