Steve Turner: We must heal the wounds of Brexit

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner’s Brexit address to the TUC Congress 2018:

Congress, today marks just 200 days for a divided, torn and shambolic government to reach agreement with the European Union on the most pressing issue facing us.

Our members want to secure their jobs and protect skills and investment alongside their employment rights. Our families need hope and opportunity to replace the helplessness, fear and despair caused by mindless austerity.

But with a wasted two years since the referendum, we’re faced with an internal battle for control of government and ministers … potential leaders even like Boris Johnson, happy to declare their willingness to ‘fuck business’ in his personal drive for power. Jacob Rees-Mogg offshoring his business interests to Ireland to avoid his own Brexit carnage and Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley, who despite the central importance of the peace process to any Brexit deal, confesses her ignorance of the politics and culture of Northern Ireland.

It’s no surprise that the polls show people no longer trust this joke of a government to achieve anything, let alone a good deal.

Abandoned to their fate

Of course, two thirds of Labour voters, 60 per cent of trade unionists, voted to remain. But that means lots of our members did vote for Brexit – we have to understand why and find solutions to genuine fears and concerns of those who feel abandoned to their fate in a rapidly changing world and betrayed by a political elite that doesn’t speak to OR for them.

Congress we live in a divided Britain, however we voted – and it’s our job, our duty in the absence of government … to step up, organise for change and deliver the programme necessary to heal the wounds and secure the best possible future for working people, our families and communities outside the EU.

Because comrades, that feeling of betrayal is deep rooted. A betrayal of the Brexit vote without answers will only add to a crisis of belonging and identity that could find its way onto our streets with a rapid and dangerous rise of the far right.

So, Congress, we need to act, and act fast. Michael Gove said he’d had enough of experts. It now seems that he and his cabinet of the rich have had enough of EXPORTS!

Last year we adopted a General Council statement that set out our tests for any Brexit deal, on trade and customs, citizens, consumer and environmental rights; protecting decent jobs.

Defending workers’ rights; ensuring continuing peace in Northern Ireland and no new restrictions between Gibraltar and Spain.

A year on and nothing the Tories have said or done can give us any confidence that they’ll secure a Brexit that meets those tests.

So, if Dominic Raab returns from Brussels with no deal, or with a deal that’s bad for Britain’s workers, we must be clear… and Congress, this statement is clear.

Rise like lions

It demands we rise like lions to the challenges for our class, to the threat of a hard-right Tory attack on working people as well as the threats from bosses who think they can use Brexit to shed jobs, relocate and off-shore our work or put a match to hard won terms and conditions, rights and protections.

It demands MPs reject a disastrous no deal and send a defeated, broken government back to the country in a general election. It demands we extend Article 50 to give an incoming Labour government time and opportunity to negotiate a deal for the many, not the few.

And if the politicians can’t do that, then we demand we go back to the people so they can vote on the deal on offer. It’s our deal, our future not theirs!

Congress this is not a call for a second referendum … a place some outside our movement want to push us … but a vote on the terms of our departure if parliament fails us.

Congress we need a better, fairer Britain. We need to heal the wounds. only our movement is capable of doing that.