Paul Embery has spent 20 years as a dedicated trade union official, fighting for better rights, conditions and pay for firefighters with the Fire Brigades Union. But after speaking in defence of democracy and supporting the working class left-wing leave vote he was kicked off the union’s national executive and banned from office for two years.
The former London regional secretary of the FBU, which he still remains a member of, was removed from his post after what he claims the union saw as a ‘treacherous’ speech at a protest in March 2019.
He has been an active member of the FBU whose official position on Brexit was to support ‘Remain – for more than two decades, joining his first union when he was 16.
But, the full-time trade unionist was kicked out of the national executive of the FBU after arguing in favour of Brexit and for democracy at the ‘Leave Means Leave’ rally
Mr Embery, a prominent left-leaning political activist and writer, was employed by the London Fire Brigade but released to conduct union duties as a full-time regional official for London between 2008 and 2019.
Over a three-day hearing in February the union argued Mr Embery displayed gross misconduct in his role.
This was because, it claimed, he did not exempt FBU officials from criticism during his speech at the rally and went against the union’s anti-Brexit policy.
For many people, it was hard to understand how a union could hold a position on remain when that question had been answered by the British public way back in 2016.
At the time of the speech, the UK had already voted to leave the EU while parliament was on an extension of article 50, Mr Embery called for Brexit to go ahead, without a deal if necessary, during the 29 March event, which was held on the day the UK was due to leave the European Union.
The speech had more to say on democracy than Brexit.
In 2019 Announcing on Twitter Paul Embery a leading campaigner for democracy and #Lexit stated:
I am disappointed to report that I have been kicked off the national executive of my union –
@fbunational – and banned from office for two years as a consequence of my speech at the ‘Leave Means Leave’ rally outside parliament in March.
“I spoke in my own time (on a Friday evening) and not on behalf of the FBU. Despite this, it was decided that I had acted in a way prejudicial of the interests of the union.
I believe the decision to be an obvious political one. The case against me was easily shredded at my internal hearing.
I am disappointed to report that I have been kicked off the national executive of my union – @fbunational – and banned from office for two years as a consequence of my speech at the ‘Leave Means Leave’ rally outside parliament in March.— Paul Embery (@PaulEmbery) June 13, 2019
More below. pic.twitter.com/CD9FWGKsgt
Mr Embery goes on to say:
‘I wanted to take the opportunity, as someone from the left and the trade union movement, to speak to thousands of ordinary working-class voters, many of whom had never been on a demo before, to talk about defending democracy and Brexit from a left perspective… The working-class people at the pro-democracy March to Leave should be the target audience for the trade-union movement.’
While it has been clear for some that the Labour Party is out of touch with the largely pro-Leave working classes, it is extremely alarming to see the wider labour and trade union movement succumb to the same fate.
Not only that, but instead of resolving these differences through political debate, the FBU has behaved like a potty students’ union, banning and ‘No Platforming’ an alleged wrongthinker.
If trade unions, supposedly the organised voice of the working classes, are so horrified by Brexit, an idea supported by a majority of working-class people, then who will speak for the working classes today?
An employment tribunal in Norwich ruled in Embery’s favour, arguing that it would ‘appear from the start of the investigation process that there was an agenda to have the claimant removed.’
Norwich Employment Tribunal ruled he was unfairly dismissed after a “witch hunt” with a pre-determined outcome.
The judgement continued: ‘The investigation… looked like no more than a witch-hunt. The ambit of the investigation, when looking at the facts, was bizarre.
‘How could any fair-minded member come to a reasonable belief on the facts that the claimant had committed any form of misconduct?’
In his witness statement, Mr Embery, who represented himself at the tribunal held in Norwich, said reasons for his dismissal were ‘contrived, unprecedented and perverse’.
Speaking at a previous tribunal hearing in February, Embery said: ‘I have always considered that the FBU’s justification for my dismissal was spurious, dishonest, and a cover for the true reason, namely my support for Britain’s secession from the EU and my increasing public profile in that national debate.’
He said his relationship with the FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack deteriorated in 2018, adding that they argued during a union meeting in January 2019.
Soon after, assistant general secretary Andy Dark messaged Mr Embery to tell him Mr Wrack ‘is looking for things to be angry about… He will come again, and soon… Think you should have the heads up.’
‘I interpreted all of this as a very clear warning that I was under the microscope and may soon be targeted,’ Mr Embery said at the tribunal hearing.
The FBU denied allegations the decision to remove him from office was unfair and discriminatory. It stated Mr Embery was not an employee of the FBU, and therefore could not be sacked for unfair dismissal.
? BREAKING: I have WON my claim for unfair dismissal against the Fire Brigades Union (@fbunational) after I was sacked in relation to a speech I gave to a pro-Brexit rally in 2019. Statement below. ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/usjkEf1rk6— Paul Embery (@PaulEmbery) August 5, 2021
Speaking after the tribunal, Mr Embery said: ‘While I am glad that after two years justice has finally been served, I take no pleasure in the outcome.
‘It was an honour to serve as an FBU official for 20 years, and I remain to this day a proud member of the union.
‘The FBU does brilliant things for its members, day in day out. I fully intend to keep supporting its campaigns and activities into the future.’
An FBU spokesman said: ‘We are disappointed with the findings and we do not agree with the decision. However, we have only recently received it and are still considering the matter. We are assessing our options for next steps.
‘As this is an internal legal matter we will not be commenting further at this point in time.’