EXCL Trade union Brexit split erupts as GMB calls on Labour MPs to back new referendum

Posted On: 
6th December 2018

A powerful trade union has urged Labour to campaign for a new EU referendum if the party fails to force a general election in the wake of next week's vote on the Brexit deal.

Campaigners for a new referendum march through the centre of London.
PA Images

The GMB's move came just hours after it emerged Unite general secretary Len McCluskey had warned Labour MPs against supporting a so-called People's Vote.

Labour's official policy is to demand a general election if the Brexit deal is voted down by the Commons next Tuesday. If that is blocked, the party has said that the option of backing a fresh referendum remains on the table.

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But in a briefing note to Labour MPs, the GMB - which pours millions of pounds a year into the party's coffers - said: "Should an early general election not be possible, GMB calls on all MPs to support giving the public the final say on the proposed Brexit deal. ​​If Theresa May is so confident about her deal then she should not be afraid to put it to the public."

In further evidence of how the referendum issue has split the trade union movement, TSSA boss Manuel Cortes has reiterated his support for another vote.

Writing for LabourList, he said: "Of course it’s vital our party does not ignore those who voted Leave. An offer of a popular vote - which must be a choice between Jeremy's remain and reform vision and a Norway-plus variant - is now viable. Let our people decide between the vassalage of the latter and Jeremy's vision for creating a Europe for the many."

According to The Guardian, however, Mr McCluskey told a private meeting of Labour MPs earlier this week that the party should think twice about supporting a new referendum

One MP told the paper: "Len spoke about tackling people’s concerns about immigration and the exploitation of immigrant labour. He said there would be a sense of betrayal among the members if we went for a second referendum.

"He said the party has to take concerns about immigration into account, and that if politicians had done so sooner we might have avoided the current situation. I wouldn’t say that the majority of MPs agreed with him at all. But he gave clear examples where the exploitation of immigrant labour has undermined existing wage levels."

Labour MP Jo Stevens, of the pro-EU People's Vote campaign, said: "As chair of the GMB's parliamentary group and a supporter of a people's vote, I am really pleased to see my union take this strong stand for working people's rights and against a Tory Brexit that will damage jobs and livelihoods. 

"Our unions have fought for working people for the last 150 years and we need them now more than ever, to lead the fight against any Brexit deal which leaves us worse off.

"Brexit threatens jobs, investment, the environment and our rights. If Labour cannot get a general election it needs to quickly mobilise across the trade union movement to support a people's vote."