Bad deal on Brexit puts 250,000 Yorkshire jobs at risk, says union leader

Frances O'Grady pictured in Leeds.
Frances O'Grady pictured in Leeds.

Hundreds of thousands of jobs in Yorkshire are at risk if the UK gets the wrong deal in its Brexit negotiations, an influential union leader said today.

Speaking at a conference in Leeds about how Brexit will affect the region, Trades Union Congress General Secretary Frances O’Grady called on the Prime Minister to “get a deal that delivers for ordinary working people in Yorkshire”.

Ministers are so unprepared that we’re still facing a real risk of Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal.

Frances O’Grady

The conference at Duke Studios on the edge of the city centre included speeches by Hilary Benn, Leeds MP and chairman of the Commons Brexit Committee and Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.

Leeds was one of only three areas in Yorkshire to vote to remain in the European Union during the 2016 referendum, alongside Harrogate and York.

Britain and the EU are reportedly due to start talks next week on their future trade relationship after Brexit, with a transition period due to run between March 29, 2019, and the end of 2020 if a deal is agreed.

Ms O’Grady said: “The Government’s own analysis shows that 250,000 jobs in Yorkshire and the Humber – that’s one in ten – are linked to trade with the EU. But with just a year to go until Brexit, the people doing those jobs are still in the dark about what’s going to happen.

“Ministers are so unprepared that we’re still facing a real risk of Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal.

“That would be disastrous for Yorkshire and the Humber’s economy. Leeds alone stands to lose £6.4bn, while Sheffield could lose out on up to £2.83bn.”

Ms O’Grady told The Yorkshire Post that the TUC had looked at all the options for the UK’s future relationship with the EU, and that “what passed our test is sticking with the single market and the customs union”.

She said: “If anyone has any better ideas about how you meet those tests, on jobs, workers’ rights and avoiding a hard border in Ireland, then great, but so far that seems the best option for us.”

Ms O’Grady criticised the ‘red lines’ set out in Mrs May’s Lancaster House and Florence speeches about areas where the UK would not compromise on a Brexit deal, several of which are opposed by the EU.

She said: “I’m not saying it’s an exact comparison but as a trade union negotiator I wouldn’t have started from here.

“What you don’t do is wrap yourself in a long list of red lines, then look surprised when the other side might have some other ideas, which is why we have been calling for options to be kept on the table. Figure out what you want, then how to get it, not the other way round.”

Separately, thousands of pro-European campaigners will take part in demonstrations across the country this weekend in what has been dubbed the groups’ largest ever joint grassroots national day of action.

Activists and supporters from Open Britain, the European Movement and Britain for Europe will take to the streets for 12 flagship events in every part of the UK tomorrow.

In all there will be more than 350 events taking place across the country, from Aberdeen in the north of Scotland to Falmouth in the south of Cornwall and Beverley in the East Riding.

Thousands of pro-EU activists and supporters are expected to take part, with organisers saying 500,000 leaflets will be handed out and more than 100 street stalls set up in towns and cities across Britain, in areas that voted both Remain and Leave.

James McGrory, executive director of Open Britain, said: “Our largest ever national day of action is all about bringing together the various pro-European groups so that we can speak with one, unified, voice because we know that together we are stronger.”

The day of action will lead into the launch of a fresh campaign on Sunday calling for a referendum on the final Brexit deal. Some 1,000 activists are set to attend the campaign’s launch event in London.