Len McCluskey: ‘Deal with EU will still be needed even if UK crashes out in October’

Speaking to Mark Mardell on the World at One today (14 August), Len McCluskey said:

“It’s going to be almost impossible to stop [a no deal in parliament]. Votes of no confidence may happen, whether they go through or not I don’t know. But the important thing for me is to hold a clear vision of the type of Britain we want to be and the relationship we have with Europe because, come 31 October, if we leave without a deal there is still going to be debate and discussion of trade deals and about what kind of relationships we have.

“The Labour Party’s position, as I understand it, is that we should oppose a no deal, and that’s certainly my union’s point of view.

“In terms of another referendum, again, if that was the only way to test a no deal with the people then that’s a perfectly legitimate stance to take. But it’s not going to happen. There isn’t going to be a second referendum under Boris Johnson’s no deal approach. I don’t think a second referendum will go through parliament, therefore Labour’s position of pointing out the dangers of no deal is perfectly correct.

“Yes [so many Labour MPs supporters want a referendum], and so many Labour MPs and supporters just want the issue done and dusted. Remember what we have here. We have Boris Johnson who has dismissed half of the nation, and speaks for half, you’ve got the Liberal Democrat party speaking for the other half. The only political party that tries to speak for the whole nation is the Labour Party and what the trade unions have said is if there was an election prior to us leaving then we should take a stance that says ‘if you put us into power we will respect the 2016 referendum and take us out of Europe, but we will do so with a deal.

“It’s nonsense [that I am the block]. I wish sometimes that I had the power that the media credit me with. Obviously Unite is the largest affiliate and our members would expect me to have an influence in the Labour Party and many of the domestic policies that Labour presented to the electorate in 2017 we were delighted with, our influence had been listened to. But remember there are other unions.

“The problem that Tom Watson has, that I have and others have is that in 2016 we campaigned to remain, on the basis of remain and reform because the idea that Europe was some panacea for working people was nonsense. We only have to look at the forgotten towns and cities that have lived through the EU for 40 years. So we campaigned to remain and reform. Tom did, I did, my union did, Labour did. But unfortunately we lost. It’s an inconvenient truth to some people but we lost the referendum. And therefore having lost that referendum is why Labour, a year later in 2017, adopted a manifesto that Tom Watson and other remainers embraced and said ‘yes, we will fight on this platform’, and the platform they fought on was that we would take Britain out of the European Union. Now they seem to have forgotten all that.

“I believe that if we haven’t left the EU by 31 October then we should respect the referendum, which means leaving Europe, but with a deal that the 48 per cent would be happy with, that gives access to a frictionless market and a customs union, protecting jobs and investment. And the 52 per cent would be happy because of the policies Labour has to invest in their communities and to deal with the abuses of migrant labour coming into our country with labour market regulations. It’s not the end of the world provided we can replace coming out with the type of deal that protects jobs and unites the nation.

“But Boris Johnson has no intentions of uniting the nation and the Liberals… well Jo Swinson voted for every austerity attack on our welfare state and communities when they were in government. They are as shallow as they come and will be exposed because they offer nothing.

“There are two scenarios. The first is if we have a general election before 31 October then Labour can take a programme to the nation that demonstrates they are speaking for everyone and in doing that I believe they will win power. After 31 October we will have left and therefore the whole issue changes and the emphasis changes to domestic policies. Everyone wants good public services. The only way we get those is with a vibrant public sector and base, with substantial economic growth. The only party with policies to do that is Labour and that message has to be taken out there. And I believe when it is that ordinary working people will say that they don’t trust Boris Johnson or the Liberals and that it’s only Labour and Jeremy Corbyn that gives us that honest approach and hope for our kids’ future.”