Article 50 is about to be triggered, and so the formal process of exiting the EU will begin. The government appears to want a quick Brexit – completed within two years – but there are many who would consider such a timetable improbable. The ties that bind the UK to the EU are many and complex – untangling and separating from them could take far longer than Theresa May imagines.
There is a great deal on the line, and these negotiations will define the future of our country for generations. Yet we still know far too little about what the government’s red lines are – and whether ministers plan on selling the British people down the river.
By contrast, UNISON’s position on Brexit is clear and unshakeable.
Our rights at work, many of which are enshrined in EU law, must be protected and guaranteed. No ifs, buts or government chicanery. Since the referendum, the government has failed to make the necessary clear and unequivocal commitments to defend our basic and fundamental rights at work. We’ve had commitments on immigration, trade and the City of London – yet we’ve heard precious little about the impact Brexit could have on the rights people at work have come to rely upon.
Likewise, we want to see the right to remain for EU nationals as a starting point in negotiations with the rest of Europe. EU citizens, who work here, live here, have family and friends here and who provide public services here, must have the right to remain. Amongst them are 67,000 UNISON members – vital public servants – who deserve clarity over their future that this government is more than capable of providing. The alternative – which Theresa May’s government has failed to rule out – is the lives of millions of people, including vital public servants, being used as pawns in those negotiations.
And leaving the EU cannot be an excuse to further decimate our public services – already suffering from relentless spending cuts – if the financial climate worsens. So we want to see a fair deal for public services at the core of any new trade deal with the EU and other major economies, rather than selling out the NHS with a rehashed TTIP.
A negotiation that fulfils these criteria shouldn’t be too difficult to achieve. No-one voted to leave the EU to weaken their rights at work. Few want to tear apart the families of those who have made their lives here. And everyone would, I hope, want to see a thriving British economy with well-funded public services in the years ahead.
UNISON will be working towards a fair deal for public services and those who provide them. It remains to be seen whether Theresa May and her ministers will be doing the same.