The Government is presiding over Brexit chaos. The people must decide where we go next.
In 2016, GMB union members, like the country, were divided on Brexit. Many people were sick of the status quo, and thought a vote to leave would bring the change they so desperately wanted. Others thought, on balance – despite some of the European Union’s imperfections - that we were still were better off in. By and large our 620,000 members are reflective of the public.
GMB campaigned to remain, but when the referendum result was announced in June 2016, we accepted the decision of the people. I have been clear that a re-run of that referendum would be misguided, and risk alienating swathes of the public who have already made their decision and believe that political elites are not listening.
But that doesn’t mean the public should be shut out of the entire process, blindly left to trust hard right Tories like Dominic Raab or Jacob Rees-Mogg in the far-fetched belief they will do what is right for us all. To working people across the country, how we leave the European Union is as important as the decision to do so in the first place.
The people voted for Brexit, and it is again with the people that approval of the final deal should rest. That is why GMB is today calling for a public vote on the final deal.
When people voted to ‘take back control’ – a slogan that, while disingenuous, perfectly tapped into the mood of many frustrated voters – they did not vote for fewer rights, for economic chaos or for greater insecurity. And we cannot forget the 48% of those who voted to remain as members of the European Union.
The Tories have spent two years fighting with each other instead of putting forward a vision which the majority of people could sign up to.
Nothing has been done to address the issues that pushed the electorate to leave in the first place. The referendum vote wasn’t just about the European Union – it was about austerity, our creaking public services under strain from continued cost-cutting with the blame pinned on immigration, it was about insecurity and undercutting of rights and wages and a lack of opportunity for working class people, their kids and grandkids.
Ever since the referendum in 2016, GMB has repeatedly raised the industrial issues and practical concerns relating to our members’ jobs, rights and the Brexit process. Ministers have simply refused to listen.
We speak to employers who have been told virtually nothing about plans for next March – and are seriously worried about the future for their staff and their businesses.
The only jobs the Tories seem bothered about are their own. If they are given a blank cheque, I have no faith that their Brexit deal will be good for working people and communities, for our kids and grandkids. In fact, it increasingly looks the opposite. This government needs to know that they have to come back and face the music, and if the public is not happy, they must listen and go back to the negotiating table.
GMB has not come to this decision lightly. We have spoken to thousands of our members and asked their views on who should have the final say on Brexit. Across every region, members believe that the power should rest in the hands of the people, there is just too much at stake.
As trade unionists, when we negotiate a pay deal with an employer, we go back to our members and ask them if they’re happy with it. Everyone gets to decide whether they want to accept or reject it. The government need to take a leaf out of our book, and be led by the people.
Tim Roache is the General Secretary of the GMB union