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Congress calls on RCN to lobby ministers on a final Brexit referendum

RCN resists congress call to lobby for final Brexit referendum: we'll gauge wider opinion first, says leadership


Picture: John Houlihan

RCN congress called for the college to lobby the government over a referendum on the details of Brexit.

Almost two-thirds (62%) of the hall backed a call for the RCN council to ‘show its strength’ in influencing the government. But the RCN says it wants to gauge wider member opinion before adopting an official position.


Will Hutton, a prominent opponent
of Brexit. Picture: John Houlihan

If the the opinion of congress representatives reflects that of the wider membership, the RCN could become the first major trade union to support a referendum on the final deal when negotiations between the UK and EU conclude.

The vote followed a keynote speech by former Observer editor Will Hutton, who said there should be a second vote – and an end to Brexit.

The speech provoked several points of order from audience members unhappy that only a 'remainer' had been given time at the lectern.

Effects on recruitment

Anthony McGeown of RCN Greater Glasgow branch proposed the motion, which received 364 votes for and 163 against. There were 57 abstentions.

Mr McGeown said the motion was not to discuss remaining or leaving, but to give members and the wider public a chance to vote on the final deal.

Seconding the motion, Michael Brown, a former RCN council chair, said it was important to discuss the future having seen the effects of the Brexit vote so far on nurse recruitment.

But Humber branch member John Hill argued that the motion called for re-running a vote simply because some people disagreed with the outcome of the 2016 referendum.


Linda Bailey wanted to know what
life outside the EU would be like. 
Picture: John Houlihan

RCN public health forum member Linda Bailey supported the motion, calling for a vote based on evidence when more information is known on what life outside the EU would be like.

Patronising to ‘leavers’

Julie Rimmer Hunter of East Lancashire branch said Mr Hutton’s speech was patronising to those like her who had voted to leave. She suggested there would be no call for a second vote had the result been to remain in the European Union.

The  RCN remained neutral in the run-up to the Brexit referendum on 23 June 2016, when 51.9% of voters expressed their wish that the UK leaves the EU.

Speaking following the congress motion, RCN general secretary Janet Davies praised the ‘healthy debate’ and said it was important to hear members’ views.

Ms Davies added: ‘We can’t manage without our European nurses but they are already leaving. Even though we’re desperately trying to recruit, people aren’t coming from Europe in the numbers they used to.’


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