Last week, the Brexit drama became a full-blown crisis.
Anxiety is growing throughout industry over the continuing confusion and uncertainty over the terms of Brexit, and the possibility that Britain might end up leaving the European Union without a deal at all. Political posturing costs people’s jobs, including those of Unite members, who I am determined to protect above all.
But we must be clear – we can’t be bounced into a bad Brexit. Theresa May’s plan addresses none of the concerns about Brexit and mitigates none of the risks. It only answers the question as to how low a common denominator can go.
The idea that the only choice is between this bad deal or no deal is preposterous and an insult to the country. It is an argument that appeals only to her ungovernable Party, which has dragged the country to the brink.
That is why, although 52 per cent of the public voted for Brexit in 2016, only 27 per cent back the Conservative deal on offer today, according to Survation.
The Prime Minister is disingenuous in saying she is carrying out the people’s wishes. The 52 per cent who voted leave did so for two main reasons. Firstly, a feeling of being left behind, forgotten in towns and cities blighted by a lack of investment. Secondly, because greedy bosses have been allowed to abuse migrant workers and undercut pay and conditions creating a race to the bottom culture.
If the Prime Minister would only stop listening to the hard-line rump on her own backbenches, she would realise that there is a different deal available. That it is perfectly possible to secure a natural majority in parliament for leaving the European Union, as the British people mandated in June 2016 but in a way that unites the nation.
She needs to reach out to Jeremy Corbyn and forget about Jacob Rees-Mogg and her disloyal cabinet. She needs to actually listen to trade union concerns, rather than pretending to do so. Jeremy Corbyn extended the possibility of agreement in his Party Conference speech in September. Now is the time to take up the offer.
In short, Mrs May needs to act as a national leader and not as a party manager. If she did, she could draw on the goodwill of all those who believe democratic votes must be respected and who understand her difficulties in trying to negotiate with the EU while manacled to the madhouse that is the Conservative Party in parliament.
The deal that can fly means a permanent customs union – a move which would at a stroke allay many of the fears for jobs.
It means entrenching the workers’ rights mandated by the EU which would be at risk from the hard-right hatchet-men of the Tory fringe.
It would offer stable long-term guarantees to Northern Ireland over the border, protecting the historic Good Friday agreement that too many are irresponsibly prepared to play ducks-and-drakes with. And it would secure our sovereignty and our right to set our own migration policy, most importantly, based on proper labour market protections for all workers.
This deal does none of those things. A shambolic negotiation has resulted in a shambolic deal, which offers Britain no control over its laws, money or borders. At best it offers temporary commitments which mean nothing to those making long-term investment decisions. Businesses sent out to bat for this deal now should understand that this is little more than 21 months more of peering over the cliff-edge. It is not the certainty that you are being sold.
There are no protections for workers’ rights, no barrier-free market access guarantees. It leaves Britain locked into arrangements we cannot exit from except with the other parties’ permission, a circumstance none of us would accept in any area of our lives.
I doubt Mrs May will take up the path offered by Corbyn seeking what is right for our nations – MPs should, therefore, hold their nerve, act for the people and vote down her plan. She must, in such circumstances, recognise she has lost the authority to govern and resign.
Parliament would do well to then endorse Labour’s honourable and sensible Brexit plan which, I believe, the EU would also accept, although I fear that the destructive factionalism of the Tory Party will prevent this.
With a new Tory leader and prime minister there would be a moral imperative to have a real people’s vote in a General Election, when the British people could restore the credibility of government by electing Labour – the only party capable of delivering Brexit for both the 52 per cent and the 48 per cent.
- This comment first appeared in the Huffington Post on November 19.