Belfast Telegraph

Clock ticking towards 'kamikaze' Brexit, TUC general secretary says

The government has been accused of a "criminal" lack of preparation for Brexit amid increasing calls for workers' rights to be protected as the UK leaves the EU.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said the clock was ticking towards a "kamikaze" Brexit, with no proper assessment yet carried out about the impact on industries.

Speaking on the opening day of the TUC Congress in Brighton, she said the government had no action plan to protect jobs and employment rights.

Ms O'Grady told a news conference: "Over the last year the Government's criminal lack of preparation for March 2019 has become clear.

"The Prime Minister needs to break free from the hardliners in her party who want a cliff edge Brexit."

Ms O'Grady also warned against the danger of a "sweatshop" Brexit, with UK workers falling behind the rights that other Europeans enjoy.

She said: "It's galling to see a Government that promised to protect workers' rights put forward a Bill on EU withdrawal that's full of loopholes on workers' rights.

"It will give ministers the power to water them down and let any future government attack them."

The TUC is calling for the UK to stay in the single market and customs unions during a transition period.

A statement issued by the TUC general council before the start of the conference said the UK needed a tariff-free, frictionless trade in goods and services with the rest of Europe.

The statement said the TUC was "alarmed " that industrial investment has declined sharply this year.

The trade deficit has widened, economic growth has slowed and wages have "stagnated", it added.

Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) Union said: "RMT campaigned for a leave vote and there should be no suggestion that there is some back door route by which Britain can remain in the EU despite a democratic decision in a national vote.

"It should not be forgotten the leave position was supported by a clear majority of working people.

"As far as RMT is concerned, membership of the single market is membership of the EU and would mean the retention of key anti-worker policies like rail privatisation and social dumping.

"We would be kept under the iron grip of the unelected Brussels bureaucracy with control remaining out of our hands."

Len McCluskey, leader of Unite, told delegates that a "squabbling" Tory party was in danger of creating a "catastrophe" out of Brexit.

He said: "This is a divided, reckless government, without plan or purpose beyond its own survival and 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, much of the Tory party just doesn't care."

He added that Unite supports Labour's position of a transition period as it was vital the UK avoided "crashing out of the EU without a plan".

Steve Turner, Unite' s assistant general secretary, said there should be a negotiated settlement beyond a transition period, providing longer term tariff-free trade with EU countries.

"Right now, with a Tory government at the negotiation table, a Repeal Bill in Parliament and hard Brexiteers spewing cliff edge rhetoric at the helm, we'd need to be convinced of a better option than continuing our membership of the single market outside the EU."

The conference expressed support for the rights of EU workers in this country.

Delegates said the contribution of EU nationals to the UK should be highlighted, including the 60,000 working in the NHS.

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