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If Mrs May's Brexit deal isn't good enough, we'll demand a popular vote

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When trade unionists do a deal, we go back to members to get their approval. So if the PM's Brexit deal fails workers, that’s what we’ll do
Frances O'Grady speaking at a TUC 150 Congress lecturn
Credit: Jess Hurd/Report Digital

Our 150th Congress in Manchester is officially open!

It’s fantastic to be back where it all began to celebrate this remarkable anniversary.

Over the coming days, we’ll be remembering how far we’ve come since we first met all those years ago, and thinking about how to make our movement fighting fit for another 150 years.

And we’ll be doing what we do every year: talking about the big issues that matter to working people.

There’s plenty to talk about: fair pay, collective bargaining, equality, job security, investment in our public services and much more besides.

But the subject on everyone’s lips is Brexit, especially the growing risk of crashing out of the EU without a deal.

Crisis point

More than two years since the referendum – and just over 200 days until we leave – the Brexit talks have reached crisis point.

At last year’s Congress, we set three tests that any Brexit deal had to meet – protecting jobs, a level playing field on rights and peace in Northern Ireland.

Two years on, we have no confidence in Theresa May’s ability to deliver a deal that meets those tests.

And many people don’t trust her government to deliver any deal at all.

The prime minister has had two years to deliver on her promise to “protect and enhance” workers’ rights after Brexit; two years to safeguard British jobs by making a credible offer to the EU on trade; and two years to rule out a hard border in Ireland.

Yet she has failed on all three counts.

Instead, she has allowed internal Conservative Party politics to trump the interests of working people.

And because she’s too weak to stand up to the hardliners in her party, we’re on course to crash out of the EU without any deal at all.

A message for Mrs May

That might be fine for hedge fund partners and millionaire Tory MPs, but the government’s own advice makes clear it would be catastrophic for the rest of us.

The average UK household can’t even stretch incomes to the end of the week, let alone stockpile for a no deal Brexit.

Prices have already been going up, while workers are enduring the longest wage squeeze in centuries.

They simply cannot afford a no deal scenario, which is why I called today for Article 50 to be extended as an insurance policy against crashing out.

After all, if the government can’t conclude a Withdrawal Agreement, there will be no transition agreement at all. The cost of trade will shoot up, and that will hit jobs and wage packets.

I’m also clear that taking a ‘my deal or no deal’ approach won’t give Parliament a real choice, but be tantamount to holding the country to ransom.

So this morning, I warned the prime minister that if her deal doesn’t protect jobs, rights at work and peace in Northern Ireland, the TUC will throw our weight behind the call for a vote on the terms of Brexit.

We’re all trade unionists – when we do a deal, we go back to the members to get their approval.

So whether it’s through a general election or a popular vote, Mrs May must put her Brexit deal back to the people so they can decide whether it’s good enough.

Working families deserve better

And our ambitions for working people don’t stop with a decent Brexit deal.

As well as failing over Brexit, this government has broken its promise to give working people control over their lives.

Ministers have done nothing to tackle low pay, regional inequalities, growing insecurity at work, or the cost of living crisis.

People are sick and tired of austerity, but the Tories still refuse to invest in public services, homes and infrastructure.

And they’ve done nothing to stop the rise of the far-right, which thrives on the hardship created by government cuts and neglect.

Working families in Britain deserve better than this – just as they did in when we first met in 1868.

That’s what makes this anniversary Congress so important. As our President Sally Hunt said this afternoon:

We are the trade union movement. We are powerful agents of change. And we don’t observe history, we make it.

That’s why we’re saying no to a job-destroying Brexit and continuing the fight for a deal that puts working people first.

And that’s why we’re marking our 150th birthday by making our movement fit for the next 150 years.

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