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Give Public a Vote on Brexit Deal, Britain’s Trade Unions Tell May

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Britain’s trade unions have told Theresa May she must give the public a vote on whatever Brexit deal she negotiates with the EU.

The Trade Union Congress said it was “serving notice” to the prime minister as it accused her of “holding the country to random” by insisting her Chequers plan is the only alternative to a no-deal Brexit.

The proposals would be “devastating’ for working people, the TUC said.

The body, which brings together unions representing more than 5.5 million workers, demanded Ms May call a general election or a Final Say referendum to seek public approval for her Brexit deal.

And it threatened to throw its weight fully behind growing calls for another referendum unless the prime minister abandons plans for a hard Brexit.

The major announcement by Britain’s trade unions will add to pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to shift Labour’s own policy towards backing a vote on the Brexit deal.

The Labour leader appeared to leave open the possibility earlier in the week when he said of the prospect of another vote: “We don’t have a position on it yet.”

Speaking in Manchester at the start of the 150th congress, Frances O’Grady, the TUC general secretary, said Ms May must allow the public to decide whether the deal she negotiates is “good enough”.

She said: “I’m a trade unionist. When we do a deal, we go back to the members and have to get their approval.

“Whether it’s through a general election or a popular vote, Mrs May should take her deal on the terms of Brexit and put it back to the people, so the people can decide whether that deal is good enough.”

Demanding the prime minister adopt a softer stance and keep Britain closely tied to the EU, Ms O’Grady said: “No deal would be devastating for working people, but so would the prime minister’s proposals.

“And if Theresa May takes a ‘my deal or no deal’ approach, she won’t be giving Parliament a real choice.

“She is holding the country to ransom, and no one voted for that. So today I want to give the prime minister fair warning. I am serving notice: that if her deal doesn’t deliver for working people, if it doesn’t protect jobs, rights at work and peace in Northern Ireland, then the TUC will throw our weight behind the call for a vote on the terms of Brexit.”

Several unions, including the GMB and TSSA, have already called for a second vote on Brexit, while more than three quarters of a million people have now backed The Independent‘s campaign for a Final Say referendum.

And a new poll today revealed members of Britain’s three biggest unions – Unite, Unison and the GMB – back a new referendum by a margin of more than two to one.

Ms O’Grady said Ms May had “let Conservative Party politics take priority over the interests of working people” and accused her of being “too weak to stand up to the hardliners in her party”.

She called on the government to try to extend the Article 50 period to allow more time to avert a no-deal Brexit.

Ms O’Grady, who previously said she has met German chancellor Angela Merkel more than she has Ms May, also said she was “disappointed” at the prime minister’s lack of engagement with Britain’s unions on Brexit.

She said: “It’s more than disappointing that union leaders, representatives of nearly 6 million workers, have not yet been heard on Brexit. Where is the voice of workers?”

She was speaking after the TUC’s General Council agreed a lengthy statement outlining its position on Brexit.

It said: “In the face of so much instability and mistrust in the ability of politicians to deliver, it comes as no surprise that polls show a growing number of people want a say on the Brexit deal.

“Given the real risk of a collapse in the talks, or a deal that does not deliver on the TUC’s priorities, whilst respecting the result of the 2016 referendum to leave the European Union, we do not rule out the possibility of campaigning for people to have a final say on the Brexit deal through a popular vote.”

On Monday, union members at the conference will vote on a motion calling for a Final Say vote regardless of the deal Ms May brings back from Brussels.

The draft text, tabled by the transport workers union TSSA, calls on the TUC “to campaign for ordinary people to have a final say through a referendum on any Brexit deal agreed so that people can make an informed decision on the deal on offer”.

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