Brexit: Boris Johnson accused of ‘running scared’ from parliament ahead of fresh snap election bid

Union leaders turn fire on prime minister, branding him the ‘clown prince of Downing Street’

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent, in Brighton
Monday 09 September 2019 11:58
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How could a no-deal Brexit be stopped?

Boris Johnson has been accused of “surrendering to the Brexit Party” and running scared of parliament by union leaders, as he mounts a fresh bid to beg opposition MPs for a snap election.

Ahead of another momentous week in Westminster, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady urged opposition MPs to “hold their nerve” against the prime minister’s calls for a snap poll until a Brexit delay has been secured.

In a speech at the TUC’s annual conference in Brighton, Ms O’Grady accused the “clown prince of Downing Street” of treating Brexit like a game and demand a Final Say referendum on any agreement.

She told delegates: He’s the coward. He’s the one running scared of parliament. And he’s the one running up the white flag.

"He’s surrendered to the DUP. He’s surrendered to the Brexit Party. And now he’s ready to surrender our NHS to Donald Trump."

Ms O’Grady argued that no deal must be “ruled out for good” before an election can take place, after the government signalled it could defy rebel legislation to prevent the UK crashing out of the EU next month.

On Monday the prime minister will suspend parliament until 14 October if he cannot secure an early election – something Labour and other opposition parties have refused to support.

But Jeremy Corbyn is facing pressure from some union bosses to back an election at an earlier date.

On the first day of congress, Mark Serwotka, the outgoing TUC president, demanded immediate action to oust a prime minister he deemed “worse than Thatcher” and his ”cabal of hard-right, free-market fanatics”.

Mr Serwotka, who is also general secretary at PCS union for civil servants, said: “Let the cry go out – we have no confidence in this government and we want a general election on our terms now.

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“We will mobilise to campaign for one, and this should including organising a massive national demonstration.”

But Ms O’Grady urged opposition MPs to “hold your nerve” against the “bullying” tactics of the prime minister.

Opening the congress, she said: “He would sell livelihoods down the river because all he cares about is political power.

“So my advice to MPs is this – when you’ve got your opponents on the ropes, don’t let them off. Hold your nerve until 31 October and call Boris Johnson’s bluff.”

Manuel Cortes, general secretary at the TSSA union, praised the strategy to withhold an election, saying Mr Corbyn had “played Johnson like a fiddle”.

He told The Independent: “[Corbyn] has got Boris in a headlock. Boris has said that he will die in a ditch – well, he’d better start digging it because he’s got no way out now.

“He’s either going to have to resign, or eat his words and ask for an extension. If he doesn’t, he is going to be removed by parliament or face legal action. He’s in a headlock.

Unite’s assistant general secretary Steve Turner drew applause with a fiery speech, when he said “f*** you” to Mr Johnson, in response to the prime minister’s notorious “f*** business” comments.

On Monday, the TUC said firms should be forced to report any differences in the pay of staff based on their class as part of measures to tackle “unfair barriers” faced by people from a working class background.

The union organisation called for new legal measures to tackle “class discrimination” in the workplace, claiming that graduates from wealthier backgrounds are more than twice as likely to be on a £30,000 starting salary than those from working-class backgrounds.

The TUC urged the government to make discrimination on the basis of class unlawful – just like race, gender and disability.

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