Starmer to PM: “Defeat virus” and stop trying to “reopen old wounds over Brexit”

Sienna Rodgers

Keir Starmer will use his TUC Congress 2020 speech on Tuesday morning to urge the Prime Minister to “get on with defeating this virus” and stop trying to “reopen old wounds over Brexit” amid a row over new legislation.

In his speech to the trade union federation conference, the Labour leader is set to call on the government to replace the coronavirus furlough scheme with new mechanisms that can protect jobs and support hard-hit UK sectors.

He also wants the Tories to outlaw ‘fire and rehire’ practices, whereby workers are given notice of redundancy and later rehired on worse pay and conditions, and will describe them as “not just wrong but against British values”.

Setting out Labour’s alternative to the government plan of ending the coronavirus job retention scheme next month in a “one-size-fits-all” approach, Starmer will say: “At this moment of national crisis, we should take inspiration from our past.

“Be willing to put party differences aside and work together in the interest of the country. Imagine how powerful it would be if we could form a genuine national plan to protect jobs, create new ones and investing in skills and training?

“I’m making an open offer to the Prime Minister: work with us to keep millions of people in work. Work with the trade unions and work with businesses. Do everything possible to protect jobs and to deliver for working people.”

On the ‘fire and rehire’ practice, which British Airways have been accused by trade unions of using against its workers, the Labour leader will add: “These tactics punish good employers, hit working people hard and harm our economy.

“After a decade of pay restraint, that’s the last thing working people need – and in the middle of a deep recession, it’s the last thing our economy needs.”

MPs and former Prime Ministers have criticised the internal market bill in recent days after a minister confirmed last week that the legislation could lead to the UK government breaking international law on Brexit.

Starmer told Boris Johnson over the weekend to “get Brexit done” and not to be “banging on about Europe” during a pandemic. He will similarly tell the Prime Minister tomorrow: “Get your priorities right. Get on with defeating this virus.”

The Labour leader will stress the need for a “genuine national plan” to prevent mass unemployment that would expand part-time working, target sectors most in need, such as aviation and retail, and offer training to workers.

Paying tribute to the labour movement during the pandemic and recognising that unions proposed the furlough scheme, Starmer will say: “When it came to protecting millions of jobs and keeping people safe at work it was the union movement that stood up.

“Without you, there would have been no furlough scheme. No life raft for seven million people. The trade unions have always been the unsung heroes of our national story – and through this crisis you have helped to write another proud chapter.”

Starmer delivered a speech as Shadow Brexit Secretary at TUC Congress 2019 in circumstances not unlike the current situation. He talked about Boris Johnson “openly talking about breaking the law” and urged him to “be clear that you will follow the law”.

He will deliver the address this year from home, rather than a studio as planned, as he is self-isolating after being told on Monday morning that a member of his household was showing possible symptoms of Covid-19.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady on Monday issued a personal challenge to Rishi Sunak at the opening of the Congress 2020 by telling the Conservative Chancellor to “stand by working families – don’t walk away”.

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