Union chief repeats call for no-deal Brexit to be ruled out after talks with PM

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady has repeated her call for Theresa May to take a no-deal Brexit off the table, as she emerged from Downing Street saying she had not received the guarantees unions are seeking on jobs and workers’ rights.

The Prime Minister was meeting union bosses as one of Britain’s largest manufacturers, Airbus, issued a stark warning of the potential damage to jobs from a no-deal departure.

The aerospace giant’s chief executive, Tom Enders, branded the Government’s handling of EU withdrawal a “disgrace” and warned the company could pull out of the UK if Brexit undermines its ability to compete.

Chancellor Philip Hammond was preparing to tell leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos that post-Brexit Britain will still be a “great place to do business”.

But Mr Enders said the UK’s multi-billion pound aerospace sector was “standing at a precipice”.

“Brexit is threatening to destroy a century of development based on education, research and human capital,” he said.

“If there’s a no-deal Brexit, we at Airbus will have to make potentially very harmful decisions for the UK.”

Speaking after talks in Downing Street, Ms O’Grady said: “The Prime Minister should do the right thing and take a no deal off the table so that genuine dialogue can take place.”

Also taking part in discussions with the Prime Minister and her team were Len McCluskey of Unite, Dave Prentis of Unison and Tim Roache of the GMB.

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(PA Graphics)

The discussions are part of Mrs May’s bid to try and get widespread political backing in finding a Brexit agenda that would command a majority in the Commons after her plans were heavily rejected by MPs.

With 64 days to go until the scheduled date of Britain’s EU withdrawal on March 29, House of Commons Brexit Committee chairman Hilary Benn demanded that the Government rule out no-deal “to stop the slow haemorrhage” of business from the UK.

Mr Benn told the House of Commons: “In a week in which P&O has announced it’s re-flagging its entire cross-channel fleet in Cyprus, Sony is following Panasonic in moving its European headquarters from the UK to the Netherlands and Airbus has warned of potentially very harmful decisions if the UK crashes out without a deal, including future investment going elsewhere. I would definitely describe that as sub-optimal.

“When is the Government going to make its own announcement that under no circumstances it will allow the UK to leave without a deal so we can stop this slow and damaging haemorrhage?”

Brexit Minister Chris Heaton-Harris replied: “It does beg the reply that why on earth is he not then backing the deal that delivers the certainty all of those businesses he named have asked for?

“I think he needs to look at the deal once again, to deliver the certainty that businesses across the UK require.”

The developments came amid growing support in Labour ranks for a parliamentary bid by former minister Yvette Cooper to extend Article 50, which would keep the UK in the EU longer, unless a deal is reached by the end of February.

Leading Brexiteers have attacked such initiatives, saying they would take control of events from the Government.

In another sign of opposition to the Prime Minister’s stance, 19 ministers, including Cabinet members, have been meeting to discuss preventing a no-deal Brexit, according to the Daily Telegraph.

One member of the ministerial group dubbed it the “hair-shirt club”, the newspaper reported.

Unions have been warning of the impact on jobs of a no-deal Brexit and have been pressing for assurances about employment rights after the UK leaves the EU.

Some have also argued in favour of a second referendum.

Nigel Farage (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)
Nigel Farage (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

On the issue of a new national poll on EU withdrawal, shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said any referendum should have just two options.

He told ITV’s Peston: “I think there should definitely be Remain.

“And there should be a genuine Leave option.

“I think it would be better if it was a binary choice.”

Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage insisted Mrs May’s withdrawal plans should be opposed, even if that risked a new referendum.

He told ITV’s Peston: “Personally, my view at the moment is better to vote down this dreadful deal and take the risk of a second referendum.”

Ms Cooper’s Article 50 bid, which has cross-party backing including from Conservative Nick Boles, is one of a number of amendments that could be voted on next Tuesday if selected by Commons Speaker John Bercow.