Issue date
14 May 2018

Frances O’Grady will warn that, to avoid a hard border in Ireland, ministers must accept a customs union

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady will today (Monday) speak at an event in the Irish Embassy in London, about the impact of Brexit on working people in Northern Ireland.

Frances will use her address to criticise ministers’ failure to offer serious answers to the question of the Irish border.

On divisions in cabinet and the customs union, Frances will say:

“I’ve spent a lot of time in Ireland over the years, both North and South, for work and pleasure.

“I still haven’t made it to the Titanic Experience in Belfast. But reading coverage of Cabinet meetings is the next best thing.

“We’ve got a series of massive leaks, ministers so busy squabbling over the deckchairs that they’ve forgotten the ship is going down, and the captain looking on from the Bridge, completely frozen and powerless to stop the catastrophe…

“So things aren’t going well, to put it mildly. And the consequences of a bad deal – or no deal – would be devastating for millions of people on the island of Ireland. We need to change course.

“Trade unions and business leaders agree that a hard border would damage trade and jobs. Up to 30,000 workers live and work on different sides of the border, and more than a fifth of Northern Irish exports go to the Republic.

“But in response to these concerns, all the Brexiteers have offered is the mythical ‘max fac’ option, supported by the magical e-border.

“Let’s be clear: the kind of technology Liam Fox and Boris Johnson are talking about doesn’t exist anywhere in the world.

“Instead of coming up with real solutions, the Brexiteers are journeying deeper into fantasyland, playing fast and loose with peace and prosperity across the island of Ireland.

“It’s becoming clearer every day that if we want to avoid a hard border in Ireland, we need a customs union. And government should keep the single market on the table too.”

On the Good Friday Agreement, Frances will say:

“I’m sick and tired of hearing about “the problem of the Irish border”.

“It feels like the latest instalment in a centuries-long discussion of “the Irish problem” in the corridors of Westminster.

“Ireland is not a problem to be solved. And treating it that way is undermining decades-worth of efforts to secure warm, cooperative and – most importantly – peaceful relations across these islands.

“And the Good Friday Agreement isn’t a problem either, no matter what Michael Gove, Owen Paterson or anyone else says.

“It was an extraordinary achievement, which trade unionists were proud to support, and which voters on both sides of the border overwhelmingly endorsed. And, whether they like it or not, British government ministers are custodians of the agreement, and of peace.

“So it’s time for them to switch their perspective. Instead of talking about how the Good Friday Agreement threatens Brexit, they should focus on the fact that Brexit must not threaten the Good Friday Agreement.

“Peace is precious, it’s often fragile, and it must never be taken for granted.”

On workers’ rights, Frances will say:

“However they voted in the EU referendum, no one voted for fewer rights at work.

“Right from the start the TUC has been clear that workers’ rights in the UK must keep pace with those in the rest of the EU. The alternative will hurt working people in Britain, across Europe, and especially in Ireland.

“Having a two-tier rights framework on the island would be a disaster, both economically and socially.

“Unions across Europe agree that workers’ rights should be a red line for all sides.

“The EU has already said that workers’ rights should be part of the final agreement – now the UK government should do the same.

“So Theresa May needs to stand up to the hardliners in her party, who would like nothing better than a bonfire of working rights, environmental regulations and safety standards.”


Notes to editors:

  • Frances is the keynote speaker at an event hosted by Adrian O’Neill, Ireland’s ambassador to the UK, in cooperation with the TUC and ICTU, to mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.
  • The Trades Unions Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together more than 5.5 million working people who make up our 49 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living.