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25th Sep 2022

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.

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  • 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.

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