In the next few days, we’ll be discussing why we need a new deal for British workers, including new rights to guarantee great jobs, a long-overdue pay rise and an economy that works for working people.
But I think it’s fitting that one of the first acts of our 149th Congress was to overwhelmingly support our General Council’s statement on Brexit, setting out how we build a more prosperous, more equal UK.
Trade unions must be ready to lead on Brexit, because the government certainly isn’t. Over the last year, their criminal lack of preparation for March 2019 has become clear. We’ve seen no assessment of the impact on our industries and no plan to protect jobs and rights.
What’s more, six months into the negotiations we still don’t seem to have any negotiating strategy. As I said at my press conference this morning, the clock is ticking towards a kamikaze Brexit.
So I’m proud that our movement has come together to lay out a clear set of tests and principles for the Brexit deal.
Some of us backed Remain in the referendum campaign, others supported Leave.
But when it comes to protecting the rights and living standards of working people, we speak with one voice.
To avoid a cliff-edge on the day of Brexit, we’ll need a transitional deal – and the common sense option is to stay in the single market and customs union during that period.
In the long-term, a Brexit deal must protect workers’ rights, hard-won through the EU. We won’t accept a deal that results in worse jobs or lower living standards. And we also need a deal that protects the Good Friday Agreement, and ensures a thriving economy on which peace in Northern Ireland is sustained.
Those are our tests.
After careful consideration, we’ve concluded that staying in the single market is the best option we can see so far. We’re not starry-eyed about it, and we’re open to other ideas, but they must meet our tests.
At the same time, the deep problems with our economy didn’t start with Brexit and won’t end with it, no matter what the deal.
And that’s what brings us to Brighton. As our President, Mary Bousted, said this evening: Congress is our shop window, where “we speak about the issues which are so incredibly important – about good work, about fair pay, about the kind of society that we want for ourselves and our children.”
Our theme for this year’s Congress is ‘changing the world of work for good’ — and that’s what we’re here to do.