This week the TUC held an online Q&A session on Brexit with Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner, who is also the Europe spokesman for the TUC general council.
One of the questions asked by the members of public watching was: “If we voted to leave, why haven’t we left yet?”
The question reflects the mood of many across Britain. This mood has also been brought up by Unite members who are worried that the debate over Britain’s future out of the EU is failing to engage many people who stand to lose the most from a Tory-instigated hard Brexit.
In response, Turner explained why Unite is scrutinising the Brexit process.
He said: “I hear that question in workplaces up and down the country. I hear it in my local pub as well and on the bus on the way home. It’s a commonly held view.
“The reality is it’s not quite as straightforward as that. We’ve got to untangle ourselves from a relationship that’s taken us many decades to build with our partners in the European Union.
“Whilst we need to untangle that and free ourselves, constitutionally, from the EU, we’ve got to do it in a way in which ordinary working people don’t pay the price.
“There are people who just want us to become this offshore tax haven outside of the European Union, with an economy in which workers rights’ aren’t protected and which puts employee terms and conditions in a race to the bottom.
“We’re not going to allow that to happen. So we’re going to have to go through a process that enables us to secure those sorts of protections for our members and secure the sorts of protections we need for the industries that employ our members.
“That means getting into difficult and sensitive discussions, for example: about customs unions and access to the single market, about our trading relations not just with the EU but with the EU’s trading partners, because we’ll also be leaving those relationships.
“The island of Ireland is another example of why the UK can’t just walk away. Without an agreement (there will be a hard border) between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
“That would put us in an incredibly dangerous situation that undermines the peace process.
“(Nobody wants to) see a hard border return, but for that to be achieved it has to be negotiated. It’s going to take time and it’s going to need a sensible political resolution.”
Watch the full TUC webinar below: