May tempts big unions in bid to avert defeat on Brexit vote

British PM offers labour and environmental safeguards to leaders of Unite and GMB unions

On the day British prime minister Theresa May met Japanese PM Shinzo Abe the embattled Mrs May reached out to two big unions in a bid to build support ahead of next week’s meaningful vote. Photograph: Getty Images

On the day British prime minister Theresa May met Japanese PM Shinzo Abe the embattled Mrs May reached out to two big unions in a bid to build support ahead of next week’s meaningful vote. Photograph: Getty Images

 

British prime minister Theresa May called the leaders of two of Britain’s biggest unions to seek support for her Brexit deal after her government indicated it would support an amendment to protect labour and environmental standards.

MPs will vote on the Brexit deal next Tuesday and the prime minister’s calls to the leaders of Unite and the GMB were part of an effort to win the backing of Labour MPs.

GMB general secretary Tim Roache said he welcomed the call but remains opposed to the prime minister’s Brexit deal.

“After nearly three years I’m glad the prime minister finally picked up the phone. As you would expect, I was very clear about GMB’s position – the deal on the table isn’t good enough and non-binding assurances on workers’ rights won’t cut it. If the deal genuinely did the job for GMB members, our union would support it. But it doesn’t,” he said.

MPs voted this week to require Mrs May to outline her Plan B for Brexit within days if, as expected, she loses next week’s vote. A majority of MPs also voted this week to rule out a no-deal Brexit, but the prime minister said on Thursday that her deal was the only alternative.

“The only way to avoid no deal is to have a deal and to agree a deal. And the deal that is on the table, the deal that is the deal that the EU has made clear is the only deal. There’s an issue that’s been raised about the backstop, and we are continuing to work with the EU on that particular issue, but there is a good deal on the table and for those who want to avoid no deal then backing the deal is the thing to do,” she said.

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe said during a visit to Downing Street that the whole world was watching Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. He expressed support for Mrs May’s deal, which he said was necessary to protect the 150,000 jobs in Britain provided by Japanese businesses.

Can this deal pass?

“That is why we truly hope that a no-deal Brexit will be avoided, and in fact that is the whole wish of the whole world.

Japan is in total support of the draft withdrawal agreement worked out between the EU and prime minister May which provides for transition to ensure legal stability for businesses that have invested into this country,” he said.

Two Conservative MPs said on Thursday that they are dropping their opposition to Mrs May’s deal and would vote for it next week. George Freeman said he would “with a heavy heart, on Tuesday, vote for this deal because we’re now in the dying stages and no deal is unconscionable”.

But with dozens of Conservative Brexiteers and the DUP’s 10 MPs promising to oppose it, the prime minister needs to persuade a number of Labour MPs to back her deal.

The government is prepared to accept an amendment to protect labour and environmental standards tabled by a group of Labour MPs who represent constituencies that backed Brexit.

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