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A no-deal Brexit would be a disaster for working people. Our priorities are to stop it from happening, promote unity and solidarity amongst working people and elect a government with a programme to reunite and transform a deeply divided society.

The TUC strongly condemns the prime minister’s announcement that he is ready to take the UK out of the European Union on 31 October without a deal. We congratulate all those MPs who voted to stop a no-deal Brexit, by which the only winners would be the wealthy, with working people paying the price.

The TUC and our affiliated trade unions will not stand by and watch a hard-right Brexit take effect, with long fought for employment, consumer, environmental and human rights attacked.

The TUC believes that the consequences for working people of a no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic. It would mean a disorderly departure, with no transition. The Bank of England has warned that no deal could trigger an economic shock, with market turmoil and widespread disruption. The government’s own analysis shows that a no-deal Brexit would leave the economy up to nine per cent smaller over the next 15 years, with significant and immediate price hikes for food and other basic goods, jobs lost and wages falling. Billions could be wiped off the public finances, placing social security and services still reeling from a decade of austerity at further risk.

Of course, some judgements of the European Court of Justice, such as Viking and Laval, have been damaging. But after a no-deal Brexit the UK government could remove from UK law rights that unions across Europe fought hard for: holiday rights, redundancy consultation, equal rights for part time workers, and important protections for women, Black, disabled and LGBT+ workers. Again, the government should be under no illusions as to our collective resolve to defend our rights. We will not stand by while important workers’ rights disappear from the statute books and workers are left at the mercy of bad bosses. We will fight back.

With the country in crisis, the prime minister’s disregard for parliament and the working people it represents is striking. By shutting down parliament, this government is treating the people with contempt.

While the hard-right millionaires currently occupying the cabinet may dismiss no-deal warnings as ‘project fear’, it is not their living standards that are on the line. Despite reheated promises on the northern powerhouse, pay and public services, the commitment to cut taxes for the wealthy exposes where the cabinet’s real priorities lie.

The threat of no deal is already having an impact. Industrial news is bleak, with disinvestment and a collapse in confidence. This risks widespread job losses across the economy, directly and through supply chains, particularly in ‘just in time’ manufacturing and the retail sector. Serious risks have been exposed to the supply of food and fuel in a no-deal scenario as well as to the supply of essential drugs, medicines and pharmaceuticals.

Dropping out of EU level regulatory bodies and arrangements risks serious disruption to medical treatments, travel and the sale and use of manufactured goods. In addition to future spending cuts, the public sector would be immediately affected in terms of staff and expertise, and there would be particular impacts in the NHS regarding access to clinical trials, equipment and medicines, which could see a six-month increase in the time it takes for new drugs to reach the UK market.

Corporate decisions on future investment are placing thousands of good, skilled jobs at risk. This will hit workers directly employed by those companies, alongside many thousands more in their extended supply chain and logistics operations. And if families, local businesses and suppliers lose spending power, jobs in the wider community are in jeopardy too. If corporations threaten to walk away, we will fight to defend our jobs and plants. We will defend our members and our class with renewed energy and passion from the threats we now face from this government.

The UK science sector leads the way globally and must lie at the heart of any industrial strategy. But a no-deal Brexit would decimate its capacity to lead and deliver.

Crashing out of the EU would not be the ‘clean break’ that many on the hard-right promise. A no-deal exit won’t put an end to the Brexit nightmare – it would just be the beginning.

Millions of EU workers across the UK face huge uncertainty about their future immigration status, denied firm legal guarantees they will be able to stay and work in the UK in the months ahead. This puts many workers at risk of exploitation and risks a repeat of the Windrush scandal. The government’s settled status scheme is causing even greater anxiety and insecurity for EU workers.

Time for change

Trade unions know that working people need transformative change in the way our country, politics and economy are run, and the promise of a stronger, fairer future. This can only be delivered by a government committed to such a programme of change. So we will also now prioritise and strengthen our industrial and political fight for a New Deal for working people: a ban on zero-hours contracts, great jobs and higher wages, investment in our schools, hospitals and other public services, a bold industrial strategy to create those good, skilled jobs in the regions that need them most, and stronger rights for working people and their unions. We will stand together to defend the rights of migrant workers against the bad bosses who seek to exploit them. Regardless of race, religion, nationality or background, everyone should be treated with decency and dignity at work and receive the rate for the job. All workers should have the right to be represented by a union and to enjoy the democratic voice and fairness that collective organisation and bargaining brings. But today the UK faces obscene levels of inequality and poverty. We need a government that will deliver radical redistribution of wealth and power.

With the debate over Brexit hardened and polarised, the real and urgent concerns of working people are ignored. The far right seeks to exploit fear and division. The government has sought to divide working people over Brexit. But trade unionists know that working people need a prime minister who will stand with all workers whatever way they voted in the referendum. The choice is clear. Either we win our vision of the future, or the hard-right win theirs.

The TUC’s tests

The 2016 referendum delivered a vote to leave the European Union, but the result was close and exposed deep faultlines. A majority of people in work voted remain, including six in ten trade unionists.

In a bid to find a sensible compromise that could bring people together, the TUC set out three tests for any Brexit deal. These tests, set out in General Council statements endorsed by Congress in 2017 and 2018, still guide our policy. They are to:

  • maintain workers’ existing rights and establish a level playing field so that British workers’ rights do not fall behind those of other European workers

  • preserve tariff-free, barrier-free, frictionless trade in goods and services with the EU to protect jobs

  • ensure that trade and livelihoods in Gibraltar and Ireland are protected, with no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and no more restrictions on the border between Gibraltar and Spain.

As agreed in the statements, we were willing to consider any proposals that would meet those tests, including negotiating a new single market relationship, or working up from a bespoke trade deal. We explored the ‘Norway Plus’ proposal – leaving the EU but continuing membership of the single market and customs union.

As trade unionists, we also know the importance of going back to our members. The 2018 statement noted that whether through a meaningful vote in parliament, an early general election or a popular vote on the terms of Brexit, it was essential that the outcome should secure the confidence and support of the country.

Alternative trade deals, the NHS, public services and Trump

For this hard-right government, Brexit is not just about the UK’s relationship with the EU. It is a political project to reshape Britain further towards a low-tax, low-rights, free market model – with all the damage we know that means for working people, our communities and public services. And the gateway to this destructive fantasy is a no-deal Brexit.

Key to building the prime minister’s vision for Britain post-Brexit is the opportunity to make trade deals outside of the customs union and single market. But stripped of the bargaining clout provided by European single market membership, there is no doubt that future UK trade deals pose an even greater threat to our public services.

While the TUC has been critical of EU trade deals, through the ETUC we have campaigned for deals that advance our principles of strengthening labour rights, protecting public services, increasing transparency and upholding democracy.

As trade unionists took to the streets to oppose his visit to London, Donald Trump was explicit that the NHS would be up for grabs in any trade negotiations between the UK and the USA. We know the US government wants to access and exploit the UK health market, making huge profits on the back of our NHS. Our NHS cannot afford a US-UK trade deal that allows multinational companies to drive up costs. We don’t trust this government. The NHS is not safe in their hands.

The TUC believes that trade deals should be based not just on agreements, tariffs and standards but on decent values. Time and again, the US president’s words and deeds show all too clearly that he stands against our values. He has caged children in detention camps, described white supremacists in Charlottesville as ‘very fine people’ and goaded a North Carolina crowd making racist chants against Black democratic socialist congress women.

The rise of the global far right acts as a stark reminder of the historical origin of the European social model in protecting peace through justice, and the role trade unions must continue to play in opposing the forces of hatred and division, in Europe and worldwide.

Working people must have their say

During the past three years we have consistently called on the government to secure a Brexit deal that protects jobs, rights and peace. But after three years of failure this PM is set on a hard-right Tory Brexit that would be devastating. The government has ruled out any compromise that would meet our tests and has posed the only option as their extreme Brexit or no Brexit.

In our 2018 statement, we called for people to have their say – whether via a general election or a popular vote. It is now clear that we are heading towards a general election. A no-deal Brexit must be taken off the table. Now more than ever the voices of working people must be heard. Any deal that is negotiated by a new government must meet the TUC’s tests and the people must have their say on any deal with the option to remain on the ballot paper.

The challenges we face are global, and the battle is not one we can fight on our own. Workers are always strongest together. So, we must stand with trade unions across Europe and the wider world to defeat hatred, defend the rights that we have won, and campaign for better governments, institutions and futures for workers, whatever our nationality and wherever we live and work.