Unite spoke in support of a Brexit composite at the Labour Party conference that prioritises the need for a general election but leaves open the option of a “public vote” in the event that the Tories are too spineless to put their fragile government to the test.
Labour, along with Unite, is demanding that a general election is called if Theresa May’s deal with the EU is voted down when she brings it to parliament for ratification later in the year.
It is extremely unlikely that May’s deal – if indeed she gets one – will pass Labour’s six Brexit tests, which include delivering the “exact same benefits” of the UK’s membership of the customs union and single market to protect vital jobs and investment.
With a near guarantee that an overwhelming majority of Labour MPs will vote against May and a lack of unity over the government’s Brexit strategy within the Conservative Party, the chances of Parliament rejecting the deal, or rejecting an announcement that there is to be no deal, are strong.
However in the event of Conservatives refusing to call a general election despite their Brexit approach leaving the country facing severe economic disruption and damage, the composite states that “Labour must support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote”.
The composite, compiled during a crunch meeting of Labour delegates on Sunday, unifies the approaches to Brexit favoured by Labour Party members and leaves the party leadership a choice of routes to secure a workers and jobs first Brexit in the unpredictable months ahead.
During the debate of the composite, delegates offered views of what exactly a “public vote” would entail.
The issue boils down to a vote on the final Brexit deal – which Unite supports if a general election doesn’t materialise – or a rerun of the referendum; an option that the union says will undermine public trust in the political process.
Introducing the composite to the conference floor, shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer reiterated its support for leaving a public vote on the final Brexit deal on the table, but unexpectedly declared that “nobody is ruling out remain as an option”.
Agreeing with the near entirety of Starmer’s positions on Brexit, and supporting the composite, Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner respectfully rejected Starmer’s inference that a “public vote” could mean a second referendum.
Turner told delegates, “If the Tory benches aren’t brave enough to (call a general election) to stand up to the Johnsons and Moggs of this world – if they fail us, we demand they go back to the people with a vote on the deal.
“And conference that is not a second referendum. Despite what Keir might have said earlier, it’s a public vote on the terms of our departure. We need to heal the wounds of Brexit, not reopen them.
“Only our movement – united with a socialist Labour government – is capable of doing that.”