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Theresa May must stop playing games with people’s livelihoods

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In her New Year's message, TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady calls on people to have the final say on Brexit

As we look forward to 2019, we face the reality that things have gone badly wrong in Britain.

The government is in chaos and the prime minister has lost control. Her Brexit deal doesn't command a parliamentary majority – and that there’s no majority for ‘no deal’ either.

Meanwhile, millions of families struggle to make ends meet. And a generation of bright young people can’t get on in life.

So it’s no wonder that people are angry. They have every right to be.

The government’s handling of Brexit has been shambolic.

Theresa May’s deal doesn't protect working people’s jobs and rights. But instead of offering a real alternative, the prime minister wants to bully the people of this country into backing her.

We’re not buying it.

The deal isn’t good enough and the prime minister should stop playing games with people’s livelihoods. The sensible and responsible option is to suspend Article 50, which is what this government must do.

They’ve run down the clock with their botched negotiations and internal party squabbles. But now there’s no more time to waste – they must come up with a real alternative. If the prime minister and her cabinet can’t find one, then it’s time for them to step aside. And one way or another, the people must have the final say on Brexit.

What’s more, we must challenge anyone who takes a cavalier approach to peace in Northern Ireland, as too many politicians have in 2018. There’s nothing more important than peace, and it’s often more fragile than we think. So we must do what it takes to protect the Good Friday Agreement and avoid a hard border.

Because ultimately, this isn’t about the millionaire Brexiteers on the Tory backbenches. It’s not about the business leaders who claim to want compromise, but really just want to preserve their profit margins at the expense of their workers.

It’s about working people and their families, the backbone of this country. They’ve been let down by this deal. But more than that, they’ve been held back by years of cuts and stagnating pay. Communities across the country have been hollowed out, as high streets are boarded up and good jobs are replaced by low-paid, insecure ones.

When we take a step back from the day-to-day frenzy of Brexit, it’s clear that the challenges Britain is facing began long before 2016. And it would be naive to think that they’ll be resolved in 2019, whatever the Brexit outcome.

If we want to fix the divisions that have opened up across Britain over many years, we can’t just offer more of the same.

Yes, we need a Brexit deal that protects jobs and rights at work – but we also need a new deal to bring prosperity, funded public services and decent jobs to towns across the UK.

And part of that new deal has to mean cracking down on bad bosses who exploit migrant workers. And standing together against the resurgent far-right, who seek to exploit divisions between workers.

We can build a better, fairer country. If we get wages and living standards rising, and restore a sense of hope and purpose in held-back communities, then we can stamp out the forces of hatred and division.

But we can’t rebuild Britain from the ashes of a botched Brexit. That’s why parliament and the people have the right to give the final verdict on Mrs May’s ruinous deal.

In the year ahead we must change course: stopping the cuts, putting working people’s interests at the heart of the Brexit debate, and finally ensuring our held-back communities get the chance to thrive.

That’s the trade union movement’s commitment for the year ahead, and I call on politicians, employers and business to work with us.

And I wish you, your families, friends and workmates good health, happiness and success in the coming year and always.

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