Put trade unionists on Brexit negotiation team, TUC’s Frances O’Grady says

The TUC general secretary said workers needed a seat at the table

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Britain’s Brexit negotiation team should include trade unionists in order to guarantee that workers’ rights are respected in any deal, the general secretary of the Trades Union Congress has said.

Frances O’Grady said any negotiating team had to go beyond “cosy chats” with business groups, be truly cross-party and include representatives of the UK’s constituent nations, big cities, and organised labour.  

Ms O’Grady criticised the Government’s approach to negotiations so far and said it amounted to “old white blokes in Westminster banging tables” and hoping for the best. 

She said trade unionists could bring much needed negotiating experience to the team and joked that perhaps members of the Government “should go on Stage 1 shop stewards training” to improve their approach.

“If and when it comes to a negotiating team then that has to be a cross-party team. It has to represent the nations, and it has to represent the big cities in the north, and in London too,” she told a fringe event at the Scottish National Party’s annual conference in Glasgow.

“But critically, from my perspective, it’s not good enough to have cosy chats with the IoD [Institute of Directors] or the CBI [Confederation of British Industry] behind closed doors. This is about the future of working people and we want to have a voice at that table too.

“Because I think most of us are not entirely confident in the three Brexiteers, when our future lies in their hands – whether it’s David Davis, Boris Johnson, or Liam Fox – or to give him his full, title ‘former disgraced defence secretary Liam Fox’. I don’t think anyone would rely on them to get the best deal for working people.”

The warning came the same day as Theresa May was accused of stacking an influential Cabinet committee on Brexit full of hard eurosceptics. The committee includes all six members of the PM’s Cabinet who campaigned to leave the EU this summer, and will oversee Britain’s secession procession.

Ms O’Grady was appearing at SNP conference for the first time since she became general secretary of the trade union federation in 2013. Focusing on Brexit during her appearance, the general secretary warned that “workers must not pay the price” for leaving the EU.

She continued: “I’m just a simple trade unionist but I don’t recognise this as anything near negotiation. What we’ve got is a load of, excuse me, old white blokes in Westminster banging tables and thinking that people in Berlin and Paris and Madrid are going to respond well to that.

“This is the kind of stuff that trade unionists are sometimes accused of but in reality we know that part of the art of negotiation is not just figuring out what you want, but also what the people on the other side of the table want, and trying to close that gap.

“I can’t tell you how badly some of the theatre in Westminster and No 10 is going down in the rest of Europe.”

Ms O’Grady defended some trade unions from criticism by SNP members at the event for their support for Trident and fracking. She said trade unions existed to represent their members’ interests.

SNP conference has been dominated by the announcement on Thursday that the Scottish Government would bring forward a consultation on a second Scottish independence referendum in the next week.

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