Full text of Len McCluskey’s Brexit speech to Unite policy conference

Colleagues

In moving the Executive Council statement let me make one thing clear at the outset.

We are not starting this debate from where we want to be.

This union, along with nearly the whole movement, argued for Remain in the referendum.

But we must now go on from where we are.

Which is the recognition that the British people voted to leave the European Union.

They did not do more than that – they did not vote to lose their jobs or their hard-won social rights.

But they did not do less either.

They wanted control over key decisions to be returned to our elected politicians in Westminster.

And as democrats we respect that vote.

It is however impossible to respect the way the government has conducted itself since.

The negotiations as to how and on what terms we leave the EU, and what the new basis of our relationship with our nearest neighbours and largest market will be, has been entirely overshadowed by negotiations to try to hold the Tory Party together.

Theresa May has lost all authority.

All capacity to make decisions.

All power of initiative.

She is 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.

But Brexit is turning into a nightmare for the rest of us – a nightmare of uncertainty above all.

The shadow of job losses is hanging over much of the British economy, including the jobs of tens of thousands of Unite members.

Airbus

BMW

Honda

JLR and more.

And all Boris Johnson can say is….well, we all know what Boris said and I can’t repeat it here.

But what he said towards business is as good a summary of what the Tories want to do to Britain as a whole under cover of Brexit.

That’s why it is so urgent that the Labour Party and our trade union movement come together around an alternative.

Labour has started to do that with Jeremy Corbyn’s call for Britain to stay in a customs union with the EU.

And to have access (not membership) of a tarrif-free single market, as well as his opposition to any hard border dividing Ireland once more.

Labour has the chance to speak for the whole country in resisting the catastrophic hard Brexit the Tories have in store.

And our Chair was a thousand times right when he told conference that in or out of the EU matters less than getting the Tories out of office and Jeremy into number ten.

That’s why this union makes no apology for working in unity with the Labour front bench as they try to navigate through the difficult period between now and the end of March next year, when Britain is scheduled to leave.

We know the sensitivities.

The majority of Labour Party members don’t want Brexit.

The majority of working class people do.

We respect the referendum result while working to mitigate its worst consequences, for jobs above all.

We listen to the concerns of so many working people that the EU’s free movement of Labour has squeezed their wages and conditions, while rejecting any attempt to blame the migrant workers rather than the greedy bosses for this.

The Executive Council statement spells out our position on tackling these abuses with greater labour market regulation – just one of the measures Labour and our union are proposing to ensure that no working-class community is ever left behind in the future.

The statement also gives your Executive Council the flexibility to adapt to the changing political situation and the negotiations as they evolve.

This is not the moment for putting ourselves in a straitjacket.

Our principles are consistent, and spelt out in the statement, but our tactics must be adaptable.

So to be clear – we are not calling for a second referendum.

And let me say too, that Unite’s policy will be set here by our elected delegates and our elected EC, and not by any unrepresentative opinion polls commissioned by God knows who.

But, like the Labour Party, we remain open to the possibility of a vote on any deal the Tories come back with.

If we can be sure of anything it is that any deal cooked up by May, Johnson, Davis and Fox will not meet Labour’s red lines or the needs of the British economy.

And the Tory red lines certainly won’t meet Unite’s requirements.

So colleagues

We need to unite.

Our movement needs to speak with a single voice in opposition to the

Tory cliff-edge Brexit.

In support of jobs, workers’ rights and equality for all removing the concerns that many of our members have.

And in also offering hope to those who backed Brexit out of despair.

Conference, we are Unite.

Out leadership is vital to our movement and to our nations on this issuee more than any.

Colleagues, the executive statement leads the way.

I move.