Saturday, 25 June 2022 – 16:56

The GMB backs calls for second referendum

Further pressure has been placed on Labour today by the GMB. They have called for a vote on the final Brexit deal in a move that places more pressure upon Jeremy Corbyn’s party to adopt a similar line. 

The General Secretary of GMB, Tim Roache, has said that the British public had a right to decision on the final Brexit deal. This could be in the form on either a general election, or if there is no forthcoming election, a referendum. 

Although there were divisions, the union, which has 620,000 members nationwide, backed remaining in the EU during the referendum campaign. 

The union has been critical of Theresa May’s Chequers plan, and has argued that the recent ‘no deal’ warning papers show the Government’s ‘utter contempt’ for the British public. 

In a statement made in August this year, the union said it was ‘preparing for chaos’ after having read the first batch of 25 ‘technical notices’ setting out what the Government is doing to prepare for a ‘no deal’ scenario. 

Roache said in a message to members that the “GMB respects the results of the referendum, but how we leave the EU is as important as the decision to leave in the first place.”

The GMB is one of the three main big trade unions in the UK – joining Unison and Unite – that wield the greatest influence over the Labour Party. This is in part, due to their funding. Whilst the other two unions have put pressure on the Party, the GMB is the first to explicitly call for a referendum. 

This issues will be debated by the wider union movement next week at the TUC conference, with the Royal College of Nursing, Community and the transport workers’ union the TSSA also supporting another referendum. 

Whilst this is likely to be a contentions issue for the Labour Party later this month when it meets for its annual conference in Liverpool, such announcements by trade unions should not come as a surprise. 

Primarily, GMB members work in almost all industrial sectors across the UK economy from retail to the NHS. As such, with economic warnings coming from cross-sector groups, the GMB is clearly has concerns from all sections of the economy, and therefore has more of an interest in the implications of Brexit than a single-sector union. 

Secondly, the way in which a union operates also makes calling for a second referendum guaranteed. A trade union operates by calling for a vote, implementing the outcome, and then calling for a second vote in which reflects on the decision made in the first. As such, calling for a second vote should not come as a surprise.

Nevertheless, the GMB represents another small indication that opinion towards Brexit is continuing to shift, and when combined with recent polling showing that more people are sceptical of the process than optimistic, albeit small, these announcements cannot be ignored. 

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