Published on June 21st, 2016 | by Prospect


EU referendum debate, Haringey TUC

By Keith Flett, Secretary of Haringey TUC; member of the CMD Sector Executive and BT Committee, and of BT Central London HQ branch


Haringey TUC held an open discussion on the EU referendum, focused particularly on trade union issues, broadly interpreted, on 31st May.

Below is a note (note not minutes!) of the discussion which represents my understanding of some of the key points.

Haringey TUC has not taken a position on the EU referendum, with some affiliated unions being in favour of remaining ‘in’ and some favouring ‘out’. The purpose of the discussion, in the wake of a media dominated by the Tory Brexit civil war, was to look at some questions that the trade union movement and the left might have around the referendum.

Most particularly, it was aimed at encouraging people to participate in the discussion and to vote in the referendum.


Delegates and observers heard from John Hilary of War on Want and Joseph Choonara from the left ‘out’ campaign Lexit.

John Hilary said that War on Want was not taking a position either way on the referendum but focusing on an educational campaign focused on key issues about the EU.

He said that the crucial issue was whether, after the Lisbon Treaty, the institutions of the EU could be reformed. He thought this was the question those supporting a ‘remain’ vote from the left needed to focus on. If it was unanswerable then a ‘yes’ vote was one for the status quo. A vote for ‘leave’ would not solve anything either but arguably could bring a battle against austerity closer to home, meaning potentially that there would be more democratic levers for change that could be pulled.

He felt that Jeremy Corbyn’s strategy was around letting the Tories fight amongst themselves.


Joseph Choonara said he felt that Corbyn was missing out on discussion with many younger supporters about the nature of EU institutions.

He said that, going around the country, he found two arguments from left ‘remain’ supporters. The first was that the EU could be reformed, but he noted that it was not clear what the mechanism for reform actually was.

The second argument was that, if there was an ‘out’ vote, this would lead to a much more right-wing UK. He felt that a progressive movement shouldn’t be one that chooses between Johnson and Osborne but rather aims to get rid of the Tories from Government.


In discussion, John Hilary noted that, in ‘Plan B’ anti-austerity meetings he had attended in Paris and Madrid, the focus was more on how to leave the Euro as this, rather than the wider EU, was the issue there.

Joseph Choonara reflected that, compared to 1975, a number of large unions supported ‘remain’ but that a statement from the RMT, ASLEF and the Bakers Union had made very strong statements against Fortress Europe and Fortress Britain.

In conclusion, Joseph Choonara said a ‘leave’ vote was about challenging neo-liberalism and breaking up its existing institutions. John Hilary underlined that he felt the key issue was whether or not the Treaty of Lisbon could be reformed. ‘Remain’ supporters must address this.

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