25th Sep 2023

Brown set for battle with unions over EU treaty vote

UK prime minister Gordon Brown is facing an increasingly tough battle with trade unions who are threatening to break ranks with the government stance and call for a referendum on the EU treaty.

Two unions on Wednesday (22 August) tabled motions for the annual Trade Union Congress (TUC) taking place next month calling for a public vote on the document.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • The unions are traditional backers of the ruling Labour party (Photo: Notat)

The motions are an embarrassment to Mr Brown, with unions being traditional backers of the ruling Labour party.

So far he has sought to play down the revolt and has remained firm on the government line of parliamentary ratification rather than a poll.

Speaking after a meeting with his German counterpart Angela Merkel, Mr Brown indicated that he thought trade unions would not go through with their threat.

"Let's see what the TUC do. My own view is that the TUC when it meets will support the government," said the prime minister.

"We believe the proper way to discuss this is through detailed discussion in the House of Commons and the House of Lords and I believe parliament will pass the legislation."

But Mr Brown is likely to face strong resistance. Unions remain angry over London's decision at an EU leaders meeting on the treaty in June to secure an opt-out from an extensive citizens rights charter.

The charter sets out social rights, including the right to strike.

"GMB members are sick and tired of being treated as second class citizens in Europe. If these rights are good enough for French, German and Spanish workers then they should be good enough to apply to UK workers too...", said Paul Kenny, the General Secretary of Britain's General Union (GMB), according to the Guardian.

The GMB and the rail workers union (RMT) have tabled two motions on the EU treaty. The RMT motion also urges an active campaign against the document.

A third union – Unison - has said it supports both motions, reports Reuters.

The renamed EU treaty is set to be finalised by the end of the year. Mr Brown said before the June treaty negotiations that if London's goals were secured then it would not be necessary to have a referendum.

After the summit, London proclaimed victory saying it had secured all its red lines mainly to do with the rights charter and criminal justice.

However the opposition Conservatives have since mounted a strong campaign to say the document is similar to the original rejected EU constitution, on which Labour had promised to have a referendum.

So far Mr Brown has not succumbed to the political pressure. But he faces two major tests in September – first at the trade union congress on 10 September and then two weeks later at a Labour Party Conference.

A recent poll showed that he could lose up to a quarter of voters from his own labour party if he does not put the new EU treaty to a popular vote.

Brown under pressure over EU treaty

UK prime minister Gordon Brown could lose up to a quarter of voters from his own labour party if he does not put the new EU treaty to a popular vote, a new survey has suggested. Meanwhile, technical meetings on the EU treaty are to start again next week.


Von der Leyen overlooks cost-of-living crisis and job quality

Von der Leyen's speech focused on labour and skills shortages, inflation and improving the business environment. Some trade unions, political groups, and organisations felt that there were missed opportunities to outline a roadmap for a social Europe.


Spain's EU-language bid and UN summit This WEEK

While the heads of EU institutions are in New York for the UN high level meeting, Spain's EU presidency will try to convince ministers to make Catalan, Basque, and Galician official EU languages.

Latest News

  1. EU trade chief in Beijing warns China of only 'two paths' forward
  2. Why should taxpayers pay for private fishing fleets in third countries?
  3. Women at risk from shoddy EU laws on domestic workers
  4. EU poised to agree on weakened emission rules
  5. China trade tension and migration deal This WEEK
  6. Europe's energy strategy: A tale of competing priorities
  7. Why Greek state workers are protesting new labour law
  8. Gloves off, as Polish ruling party fights for power

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Medical Devices Regulators Forum (IMDRF)Join regulators, industry & healthcare experts at the 24th IMDRF session, September 25-26, Berlin. Register by 20 Sept to join in person or online.
  2. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  3. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA
  4. International Medical Devices Regulators Forum (IMDRF)Join regulators & industry experts at the 24th IMDRF session- Berlin September 25-26. Register early for discounted hotel rates
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal interest in the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations – here are the speakers for the launch
  6. Nordic Council of Ministers20 June: Launch of the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us