The trade union movement is preparing to throw its weight behind a public vote on the final Brexit deal amid warnings the UK is going to “crash out” of the EU.
The head of the TUC said the country was at “crisis point” with no confidence in the government’s ability to protect jobs, workers’ rights or peace in Northern Ireland.
General secretary Frances O’Grady accused the Prime Minister of “holding the country to ransom” over her approach to a Brexit agreement.
She told a press conference ahead of the TUC Congress in Manchester: “I want to give the Prime Minister fair warning. I am serving notice that if her deal doesn’t deliver justice for working people, if it doesn’t protect jobs, rights at work and peace in Northern Ireland then the TUC will throw our weight behind the call for a vote on the terms of Brexit.”
Ms O’Grady said unions went back to their members to approve deals, adding: “Whether it’s through a general election or a popular vote, Mrs May should take her deal on the terms of Brexit and put it back to the people.”
Ms O’Grady said it was “more than disappointing” the Prime Minister had not consulted union leaders including herself on the impact on workers on any Brexit deal.
“The only advice for workers is how to stock up their freezers.”
Ms O’Grady accused the Prime Minister of letting Conservative party politics take priority over the interests of workers.
The TUC wants the Brexit timetable to be extended as an insurance policy against the risk if “crashing out” of the EU, she added.
Mick Cash, leader of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, spoke out against another vote.
“Trade unionists voted in droves to leave the EU because they are sick of austerity, the race to the bottom on jobs and pay and the privatisation of services like the railways which is all wrapped up in EU diktat.
“The problem we have now is that the terms of Britain’s withdrawal are being negotiated by a useless and divided Tory government that is a global laughing stock.
“The only vote now that matters is a general election and the sooner the better. The talk of a second vote on the withdrawal terms is a de facto second referendum whichever way you try to dress it up and risks becoming a trojan horse for civil unrest on our streets.”
Brexit will be debated at the TUC conference on Monday when the general council will issue a statement demanding a general election if the withdrawal agreement is bad for jobs and workers’ rights.
Jon Skewes of the Royal College of Midwives, who will be speaking in Monday’s debate, said: “We firmly believe that the British public have been misled over what Brexit means for the country and are deeply concerned about the impact of Brexit on the NHS, and the staff from other EU countries working in it.
“We are calling for a public vote on any Brexit deal so that the people of this nation can make a choice about leaving the EU armed with real information, not the propaganda of those campaigning to leave.
“I have real fears that if the UK ends up with a disastrous no-deal Brexit it will not only damage the UK but workers will be the ones who are hit hardest.”