Unite general secretary Len McCluskey today (January 24) met with prime minister Theresa May to press the trade union movement’s case for unequivocal protection of jobs, investment and workers’ rights post-Brexit.
McCluskey was among a handful of top trade union leaders including TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady and Unison general secretary Dave Prentis among others to meet with the prime minister amid a Brexit deadlock in Parliament that so far shows no sign of being resolved.
McCluskey told Sky News afterwards that he questioned whether the prime minister was merely treating their meeting as a ‘PR stunt’ or whether it was ‘a genuine attempt’ to reach out to the trade union movement.
“Warm words are one thing but action is what’s needed,” he said.
Reiterating his belief that extending article 50 is the only way out of the Brexit impasse because it gives more time to thrash out further negotiations, McCluskey said that the prime minister “needs to take an initiative to pull people together towards discussion”.
But he added that any extension should not be prolonged for more than a few months because he said, “we have to give a clear indication” that the referendum result won’t be “dismissed by stealth” with delay after delay.
The Unite leader said that today’s meeting was in many ways “two and a half years too late” and pointed to the fact that the Brexit chaos the country is now engulfed in resulted from a Conservative government rushing through a referendum over 12 weeks when voters were given 18 months in the Scottish referendum to mull over the arguments for and against Scottish independence.
McCluskey noted that he “wasn’t particularly enthusiastic” about his meeting with the prime minister today because he wanted to see action from May and not simply words.
Responding to suggestions that the risks of a no-deal Brexit were over-hyped as part of so-called ‘project fear’, he noted that all Unite members, whether they voted to leave or remain are concerned about “what would happen to their jobs and investment” in the event of no-deal.
“Every time I talk to major companies, it’s investment that is the key,” McCluskey added. “[Companies] take investment decisions years ahead before the investment going in. I can name half a dozen companies I’ve spoken to who say they’ve put investment on the back boiler.
McCluskey highlighted how Airbus, with its 14,000-strong workforce, most of whom are Unite members, today (January 24) announced it may close UK factories in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
“[No deal] cannot be allowed to happen and I don’t believe any British prime minister would allow it to happen,” he said. “It would be catastrophic and [Theresa May] has been told that from all parts.”
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner echoed McCluskey’s views today as he responded to Airbus chief executive Tom Enders’ warning against a no-deal Brexit.
“No deal Brexit fantasists should pay heed to this strongest warning yet from Airbus, a powerhouse of UK manufacturing and a central support to local and regional economies across the UK,” Turner said. “The consequences of a no deal Brexit on the future of the UK’s world leading aerospace sector, its integrated supply chain and wider manufacturing would be catastrophic.”