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“TWENTY-ONE months of breathing space won’t secure the next vital vehicle model, it simply gives bosses time to relocate businesses.”
Those are not my words — they are the words of a Unite member in the auto manufacturing industry, who recognises that Theresa May’s Brexit deal puts jobs at risk.
And here’s another: “It’s a disaster for the UK tyre industry. With no guarantee of frictionless trade after the transition period, there could be delays in supply chains, while the lure of cheap imports dumped on the UK market will cause more damage.”
It’s because our members, in all sectors of the economy, see the result of the Prime Minister’s Brussels negotiations as the threat to their livelihoods that it is, that Unite has appealed to them, in the days running up to tomorrow’s parliamentary vote, to work for a better deal. We’ve asked them to call on MPs to hold their nerve and reject what the government has put on the table.
We know that some of our manufacturing companies are trying to persuade our conveners and shop stewards to support the deal.
Across the UK, industry is increasingly anxious over the confusion and uncertainty and the fear of us crashing out of the EU without a deal.
I understand that anxiety and that of our members who are being told by their bosses that this is as good as they will get. Those companies know it’s a bad deal but see it as giving them time to make plans and avoid the disaster of a no-deal Brexit, in the face of May’s deplorable scare tactics.
But Unite has studied the deal carefully, analysing what it means for our members and for all workers.
In manufacturing it falls far short of delivering frictionless trade — indeed there’s no mention of “frictionless” anywhere in the document — which is vital to keeping components and products moving.
Our pharmacy members quickly noted that the deal doesn’t guarantee the UK will be part of Europe-wide safety measures, such as databases of drug side effects and counterfeit medicines, which are difficult to replace and costly for an NHS already under strain from austerity.
Our radiography members warn it risks lives by potentially starving the NHS of radioactive materials needed for X-rays and cancer treatment.
Those are just a few examples. From manufacturing to transport and from food to finance, there are many more.
Unite’s summer conference supported a series of tests based on our trade union values which we would use to judge any deal.
These are that any Brexit deal must deliver barrier-free access to the single market, secure a customs union with the EU, protect and enhance union-won workers’ rights, safeguard the Good Friday Agreement, ensure that there is no hard border between the Republic of Ireland and the North and protect the integrity of Gibraltar.
And we called for a deal to end a decade of austerity, one that replaces the race-to-the-bottom culture with a rate-for-the-job society.
May’s deal falls short of every one of these tests. Our lawyers have studied the deal and say the so-called non-regression from existing rights commitments will be worthless because there are no enforcement mechanisms. This is a disgraceful disregard for workers’ rights.
Our members in Ireland warn the deal completely fails to deliver long-term certainty for the borders on the islands of Britain and Ireland and that it leaves the door open to a damaging hard border.
And it utterly fails to address why people voted to leave the EU in the first place, why communities feel left behind and why our country has become so divided. The causes have not been tackled by the government, and are getting worse.
The withdrawal agreement and the political declaration do not mean that Brexit has been delivered and we can all move on. In reality, they are little more than a cynical attempt to rush us out of the door without any agreement on what should happen next.
And what will happen next is years of further negotiations as the UK attempts to broker a deal with our biggest trading partner, which will be too late for the thousands of jobs dependent on a deal that meets our tests.
Last week, I had the privilege of speaking at an event in north-east England. Every part of the region aside from the city of Newcastle voted to leave the EU. To them, Brussels and Westminster are distant entities that know nothing of their lives or understand the colossal damage decades of failed neoliberal economics have done to their communities.
A bad deal, like May’s deal, will do nothing but bring more harm to these workers. Her deal may suit the short-term interests of big capital, but it will bring nothing but further hardship and lower living standards to those who voted for a fairer future.
That is why Unite says that the UK deserves a better deal. It is clear that this government has no interest in negotiating this.
That is why it should move over and let Labour's alternative be put before the Commons or the country via a general election.
There are but 15 weeks until we leave the EU. Running down the clock may have been May's intention all along, but we will not be blackmailed into a bad deal — and we reject the cynical threat of no deal. Doing so opens up more options, not fewer.
It is time that the interests of our class came first in determining the future of our nations. If we stand together we will do better.
Len McCluskey is general secretary of Unite the Union.
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