Unions back new Brexit vote
Poll of Unite, Unison and GMB members shows support for new referendum
Members of Britain’s three biggest trade unions now support a new referendum on Brexit by a margin of more than two to one, according to a bombshell poll that will cause political shockwaves on the eve of the autumn political conference season.
The survey of more than 2,700 members of Unite, Unison and the GMB by YouGov, for the People’s Vote campaign, also finds that a clear majority of members of the three unions now back staying in the EU, believing Brexit will be bad for jobs and living standards.
The poll came as union delegates gathered in Manchester for the annual Trades Union Congress (TUC) conference. The Labour party will hold its conference later this month in Liverpool, where delegates are expected to debate and vote on Brexit policy.
On Monday delegates of the TUC, the umbrella organisation for the UK’s unions, voted overwhelmingly in favour of a second referendum on Brexit being an option should the prime minister fail to secure a deal that protects jobs and workers’ rights.
In an interview with the Observer before the poll findings were released, shadow chancellor John McDonnell said his preferred option was still for voters to be offered a say on the government’s handling of Brexit – and any deal brought back from Brussels by May – in a general election. But he said that if Labour was unable to force one in the coming months, he wanted to “keep all options open”, including supporting a new referendum.
McDonnell said he was sure there would be a full debate and votes on Brexit at the Labour conference. And he went out of his way to praise the People’s Vote campaign, which he said had been very “constructive” and had made clear that its attempts to influence Labour policy should not be seen “as an attack on Jeremy Corbyn or positioning around the leadership. It should be a constructive debate and that is right.”
The poll found that members of Unite, the country’s biggest union, and Labour’s largest financial backer, now support a referendum on the final Brexit deal by 59% to 33% and support staying in the EU by 61% to 35%. GMB’s members support putting the issue back to the people by 56% to 33% and its members want the UK to stay in the EU by 55% to 37%.
Unison members back another referendum by 66% to 22% and would opt to stay in the EU by 61% to 35%.
Union members think standards of living will deteriorate as a result of Brexit by a margin of around four to one and that Brexit will worsen, not improve, job opportunities.
Last week Tim Roache, the GMB’s general secretary, announced that his union would back another referendum after consulting its 620,000 members. Roache, who will address a People’s Vote March for the Many on the opening day of Labour’s conference, said the country did not vote for a “no deal” Brexit or to damage the economy.
“In trade union terms, if we negotiate a pay deal for our members we put that deal back to the members and they decide whether that’s acceptable or not.”
The TUC was expected to adopt a new position on Brexit that will place an emphasis on jobs, rights at work and peace in Northern Ireland. Its executive council was also set to back the possibility of another vote on Brexit.
Peter Kellner, the former president of YouGov, said the poll could mark a turning point. “It’s not that rank-and-file trade unionists are indulging in gesture politics or ideological breast-beating. They are worried about the impact of Brexit on jobs, taxes, living standards and the National Health Service. They fear that Brexit Britain would find it harder to sell products and services abroad.”