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No to a second referendum – and no to a Tory Brexit

Unite calls for a general election and a Labour government to negotiate our exit from the EU

UNITE threw its might behind Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn today, vowing to get him into No 10 as the union said No to a second referendum on Brexit.

Speaking at the union’s biennial policy conference in Brighton, general secretary Len McCluskey took aim at the media misrepresentation of the union's position on a second referendum, telling delegates: “Let me be clear – we are not calling for a second referendum.

“Our decisions are made by our conference, not by any unrepresentative opinion polls commissioned by God knows who.”

His attack was aimed at a poll briefed to the press last week by anti-Brexit organisation Open Britain, which claimed that a majority of Unite members do not trust Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Brexit and desire a second referendum.

The union’s executive statement condemned the government’s “abysmal” handling of Brexit negotiations and advocated Britain’s “barrier-free” access to the single market as well as securing a customs union with the EU.

As it remained “highly unlikely” that the final Brexit deal negotiated by the Tories will satisfy Unite members, the union’s priority will be to “force an early general election which can lead to the election of a Labour government” which could “reach a better deal with the European Union” and improve British-European relations.

Mr McCluskey warned of the dangers of a no-deal “cliff-edge” Brexit and said that the British people voted to leave the European Union, not for increased unemployment or the erosion of social rights.

People voted leave, said Mr McCluskey, because they “wanted control over political decisions to be returned to our elected politicians in Westminster” and “as democrats we respect that vote.”

Mr McCluskey condemned the “shadow of job losses” hanging over the heads of Unite members and criticised Prime Minister Theresa May's “nightmare of uncertainty” in her Tory Brexit plan.

“Theresa May has lost all authority, she has lost all capacity to make decisions, or all power of initiative," he said.

“She is being held prisoner by the dogmatists and fantasists of the far right.

"These people see in Brexit the chance to turn Britain into the low-wage, deregulated, race-to-the-bottom society of their dreams.”

Reiterating Mr Corbyn’s calls for Britain to stay in a customs union and access to, rather than membership of, the single market, Mr McCluskey said that “staying or leaving the EU matters less than getting Jeremy in office.”

Delegates engaged in debate over several hours about their attitude towards a Britain outside of the European Union.

Nabila Ahmed, a Unite young member from Watford, expressed her concerns that a second referendum “would give a boost to the far right” and claimed that the “ultimate agenda” of “Europhiles” demanding a second referendum would be to “break Jeremy Corbyn.”

Damian Bailey, chair of Unite’s north-west young members’ committee, told conference that that “the most important thing for young members is not to re-enter the European Union, but electing a Corbyn government.”

He told delegates that “union members should not be grateful for the meagre rights the European Union gives us” and that “we should have unions fighting for us, like Unite.”

Mr Bailey warned delegates to ignore the fearmongering spread by employers, highlighting that “the same people who threaten to move our jobs abroad after Brexit are often the same people who would threaten to move our jobs abroad if a Labour government gets elected.”

But Mick Graham, convener of the Land Rover plant in Solihull, also reminded delegates that “we are internationalists, and we must reaffirm our commitment to solidarity across all borders.

“Defending our members and communities has to be our priority.”

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