Road to Brexit event panel. Photo: Andy Thornley @BIBAandy
Working people need robust opposition to the drive for hard Brexit
I’ve been speaking at the Party of European Socialists’ Road To Brexit conference today. PES is the European political grouping that includes the UK’s Labour Party and their counterparts from around Europe.
This has been a particularly important event as Brexit will be a process with real dangers for workers across Europe as well as here in Britain, if our politicians of all parties don’t handle it properly.
The TUC’s position on Brexit is pretty simple: We want the best possible deal for workers. Working people must not pay a price for Brexit. They’re still paying the price of the financial crash and they simply can’t afford to lose more.
We mustn’t allow Britain to become the cheap labour capital of Europe. That would be bad for workers in Britain. And it would be bad for our friends in France, Germany and elsewhere if they end up being undercut by us.
So the TUC’s top priority is to safeguard jobs, rights, wages and investment.
We want rights at work that are as good as, or preferably better than, the minimum standards set by the EU.
The government has told us not to worry. They will protect workers’ rights. Well, as trade unionists, we like promises. But we prefer guarantees. And promising that existing rights won’t be stripped away does not guarantee that British workers won’t fall behind our friends in the EU in the future.
I believe the Prime Minister was wrong to rule out keeping Britain in the Single Market. The ‘deal or no deal’ talk and threat to turn the UK into a giant offshore tax haven isn’t being strong. It’s being reckless.
And, as we saw all too vividly with that leaked document that categorised industries like steel and telecoms as a low priority, it’s working people’s livelihoods that will be put at risk.
Instead we need a new deal that delivers skilled jobs, on good wages in the parts of Britain that need them most.
We also think the Prime Minister was wrong not to guarantee the right to remain for EU citizens already living here.
That’s not just because it would have been the right thing to do – but because it would also have been the best way of protecting UK citizens living in the EU. And it would show that we as a country reject the politics of hate and recognise that workers born overseas are human beings, not bargaining chips.
So what should Labour do now?
In a nutshell, we to see some need robust opposition to the Conservatives’ capture by hard Brexit ideologues. We need to see a principled case for a positive, fair trade deal with the EU, not least because so much of our national prosperity depends on it.
Red lines on jobs and rights that should mean just that. And we need a strong focus on securing a good transitional deal that can help smooth the way and get us there.
The PM has been full of warm words about making a success of Brexit. It’s Labour’s job to hold her to account, and fight for a Brexit that delivers for working people – the only way that Brexit really can be a success.