UK Politics

Brexit: Stop playing to Brexit 'bad boys' TUC chief tells May

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Media captionTUC chief Frances O'Grady: PM should "stop playing to the bad boys at the back of the class"

The UK's trade union movement chief has told Theresa May to "stop playing to the bad boys at the back of the class" over Brexit and "start listening".

Frances O'Grady said she did not get the workers' rights guarantees she wanted in a meeting with the PM.

The UK's most senior union leaders met Mrs May to urge her to rule out a "no deal" Brexit and extend negotiations.

Mrs May is seeking support for her Brexit deal ahead of a crucial Commons vote on Tuesday.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has refused to join the talks until Mrs May rules out the UK leaving the EU with no deal, which he says would bring "chaos" to the country.

The UK is due to leave the EU at 23:00 GMT on 29 March.

Mrs May met Ms O'Grady, Unite leader Len McCluskey, Tim Roache of the GMB and Dave Prentis of Unison at Downing Street on Thursday.

TUC General Secretary Ms O'Grady said workers were worried about their jobs and needed reassurances about their future.

"We have a prime minister on a temporary contract - she cannot bind the hands of a future prime minister," she said.

"People wanting her job are on record as saying Brexit is an opportunity to reduce workers' rights.

"The prime minister, frankly, has to stop playing to the bad boys at the back of the class and start listening to where I think Parliament is, which is wanting no deal off the table and more time for genuine talks to take place."

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Unite union leader Mr McCluskey, a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn, said he was "not full of optimism" after his meeting with Mrs May.

But he said the talks had been a chance to "re-emphasise" that a no-deal Brexit would be "disastrous".

"Is this just a PR stunt for the media… or this a genuine attempt to see if we can talk about issues that matter to us?," he said.

"Warm words are one thing but action is needed."

He said a nine-month delay to Article 50 - the process taking the UK out of the EU at the end of March - would be "too long", but he would like an extension of three months.

And he said Mr Corbyn was "correct" not to hold Brexit talks with Theresa May because leaders from other parties, such as the SNP and the Lib Dems, had been made to look "rather stupid" for doing so.

It was different for union leaders, he added.

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Image caption Unite union leader Len McCluskey says he would like a three-month extension of Article 50

Unison leader Dave Prentis said he believed it to be "in everyone's interest" that Article 50 was extended and urged Mrs May to stop "appeasing the right wing" of her party while Mr Roache also asked for an extension but added that "most important of all" was ruling out the prospect of a no-deal Brexit.

How is the PM trying to break the deadlock?

Mrs May is hoping to tweak her deal to address concerns about the "backstop" among her own backbenchers and Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, which she relies on to keep her in power, ahead of another vote on her proposed way forward next Tuesday.

The backstop is the "insurance policy" in the withdrawal deal, intended to ensure that whatever else happens, there will be no return to a visible border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic after the UK leaves the EU.

Both the UK and the EU believe that bringing back border checks could put the peace process at risk but critics say the backstop keeps Northern Ireland too closely aligned with the EU and separate from the rest of the UK - and that the UK could be permanently trapped in it.

However Irish PM Leo Varadkar said the UK would find it "very difficult" to do trade deals after Brexit, if it has not resolved the Irish border issue.

Mrs May has not ruled out the prospect of the UK leaving the EU without a deal and has said the only way to prevent it is to leave with her deal.

But Business Minister Richard Harrington spoke out against a no-deal Brexit, at a meeting of business people at the German embassy on Thursday.

He said: "Crashing out is a disaster for business… Airbus is correct to say it publicly and I'm delighted they have done so."

He said he was "happy" to continue in his role, but added: "I quite understand if the prime minister thinks I'm not the right person to be business minister."

How are MPs trying to move Brexit plans on?

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Media captionWATCH: John McDonnell: PM trying to 'blackmail' MPs on Brexit

A number of MPs are proposing amendments putting forward alternative plans to the PM's deal with the EU - including seeking an extension to the UK's exit date.

Labour MP Yvette Cooper has tabled one that would give time for a bill to suspend the Article 50 process for leaving the EU to the end of the year if a new deal has not been agreed with Brussels by the end of February.

It is is backed by several Remainer Conservatives and is the only amendment that would be legally binding on the government, if passed.

Her Labour colleague, Rachel Reeves, has also tabled an amendment to extend Article 50.

Other amendments would ask the government to consider a range of options over six full days in Parliament before the March deadline, to set up a "Citizens' Assembly" to give the public more say or to insist on "an expiry date to the backstop".

Plans by a group of Tory and Labour MPs to table an amendment on another EU referendum have been dropped, but the Lib Dems will be tabling an amendment calling for a "People's Vote".

It will be up to Speaker John Bercow to select amendments to put to the vote.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell told the BBC's Hardtalk he believes it is "highly likely" Labour's front bench will support Ms Cooper's amendment but that it first had to go through the party's "normal process". Party leader Mr Corbyn said the decision had not yet been made.

Read more about the amendments here

What's the view from the EU?

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier reiterated on Germany's Deutschlandfunk radio that there can be no time-limit on the proposed backstop.

"If nothing moves, if no positive suggestions are put on the table, then we will be heading for a more or less bumpy or accidental no-deal on 30 March," he said.

Mr Barnier also played down suggestions that the two-year Article 50 process ought to be extended, saying: "I personally believe that we do not need so much more time, but that we now need to make decisions, to be taken by the British government and the Parliament of Great Britain."