Brexit represents the key challenge for our movement and working people today.
It’s not a challenge we went looking for.
My union, the TUC and most affiliates believed that, on balance, our interests were best served by remaining part of the European Union.
However, we were never starry eyed about Europe.
We knew that too often the EU had come down on the side: of neo-liberalism; of austerity economics; and of putting big business interests first.
But we backed the line of the Labour Party – Remain and Reform.
The British people decided differently, and we must accept that fact as democrats.
And we must face the fact that many of our own members voted for Leave
Not because they hate Europe or Europeans
But because they hate what the economic system, and the international elite, has done to their jobs, their communities, their way of life and the prospects for their children.
We must recognise these concerns, just as Labour did so successfully during the General Election campaign.
Our position on Brexit today is informed by the same concerns that we expressed during the referendum campaign.
The protection of jobs
And the preservation of those workers’ rights emanating from the EU.
All of that is being put at risk by the Tories.
Here we are, six months into negotiations with only a year left to secure a deal
And nothing has yet been agreed – even within the government itself, never mind with the EU.
A divided, reckless government, without plan or purpose beyond its own survival is driving Britain and many of our key industries straight towards the precipice.
Placing tens of thousands of jobs in jeopardy
And here’s the real problem, colleagues,
Much of the Tory party just doesn’t care.
It’s all collateral damage as far as they’re concerned, on the highway to their low-wage, low-tax utopia.
A second Singapore floating off Europe, undercutting wages and social protections.
A deregulated race to the bottom, slashing rights at work and disregarding product standards and other safeguards.
And the Prime Minister seems incapable of formulating any agenda, or imposing any order on her squabbling team.
Conference, more than ever, it’s clear that Britain cannot afford a Tory Brexit.
Only un-remitting pressure from the labour movement is going to avert this catastrophe.
That’s why my union supports the position taken by Labour on the transition period, avoiding crashing out of the EU without a plan, by remaining within the single market for a short additional period.
We also support Labour in opposing the Tories’ EU withdrawal bill, which will give ministers powers to scrap workers’ rights as and when the fancy takes them.
Theresa May says that’s not her intention to do that.
But calling an early general election wasn’t her intention either – until it suited.
She regrets that decision now, and let me make it clear – if she uses Brexit as a pretext to attack workers’ rights, she will live to regret that too.
Beyond a transition period, however, we must honour the referendum result by returning to Britain the full powers to shape our future.
Brothers and Sisters, our best hope for workers’ rights and a prosperous, balanced economy is not a hard Brexit or a soft Brexit, nor a second referendum.
It is a Labour government under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.
Which implements the manifesto which got so much support just three months ago and speaks so clearly to our members’ concerns and aspirations.
That’s the best guarantee of not just the rights we have, but the rights we need.
That’s the best guarantee of not just jobs, but decent well-paid jobs throughout the country.
It’s also the best guarantee of a tolerant society with equality for all.
So let our whole movement unite on our basic principles.
And fight for the Labour Brexit which puts working people first.
For the many, not the few.
A version of this speech was first made to TUC conference delegates on September 10, 2017.