A Fire Brigade Union (FBU) leader was told to “be aware” that his boss would “come” for him over his support for Brexit just months before he was sacked, a tribunal has heard.
Paul Embery was thrown out of the executive of the FBU after almost 11 years service after he shared a platform with Nigel Farage and Richard Tice at a Leave Means Leave rally in central London.
Mr Embery says that as a result of this vocal support of Brexit he was a victim of an “appalling witch-hunt” in which there was “a blatant dig for dirt” before “trumped up” charges were brought.
He is now suing the union for unfair dismissal and direct discrimination on the grounds of his philosophical belief in Britain’s independence.
Mr Embery argues that the reasons given for his dismissal were “contrived, unprecedented and perverse” and the “real reasons for my dismissal were my pro-Brexit views and activity” and the “leadership’s resentment” of his public role.
The FBU denies the allegations, claiming that Mr Embery was not even employed by them but by the London Fire Brigade (LFB). They maintain that he broke union rules by sharing a platform with right-wing politicians and undermined the FBU in his speech.
Mr Embery, who joined the fire brigade in 1997, started at the union in 2008 and May 2017 was elected as the FBU’s executive council member for London, which saw his union salary increase to £7,025 per year and led to the FBU reimbursing the LFB for his salary.
The FBU had voted to support Remain before the referendum, but his public campaigning for Brexit had not been questioned as the union had a long tradition of allowing freedom of speech, he said.
In 2018 his relationship with Matt Wrack, the FBU General Secretary, began to deteriorate, he said.
Mr Embery said that his boss, who he described as having a “Trotskyist background”, viewed campaigning alongside political opponents “as something akin to collaborating with an enemy” and “a form of treachery”.
The pair had a row during a union meeting in January 2019 in which Mr Wrack accused him of “emboldening the far-right”.
Mr Embery later received messages from assistant general secretary Andy Dark telling him that Mr Wrack “is looking for things to be angry about… He will come again, and soon… Think you should have the heads up.”
Mr Embery noted in his witness statement: “Rather ominously, he added: ‘Bottom line, he is fixated on you… You need to be aware’.
“I interpreted all of this as a very clear warning that I was under the microscope and may soon be targeted.”
Just two months later the warnings “proved accurate”, said Mr Embery who is still employed by the LFB.
On the day that Britain had originally been due to leave the EU, Mr Embery gave a talk at the Leave Means Leave rally in Parliament Square in which he accused the leaders of the labour movement of favouring the “establishment” over working people,
He went on the podium hours after he received a text from the president of the FBU Ian Murray telling him that to speak alongside Mr Farage would be a breach of union rules.
After the speech Mr Wrack gave a statement “referring to me and others from the political Left who had spoken at the rally as a ‘disgrace to the traditions of the labour movement’.”
He said from this moment he knew his “card [was] marked”
Just 13 days after he attended the rally he was informed that he would be investigated after a complaint from Mr Wrack about his behaviour. There were six allegations against him.
One complaint was upheld, and he was found to have undermined the FBU by criticising the leaders of the labour movement. In the speech he did not state that his union was exempt from the attack.
He was dismissed from his position and banned from standing for office in the union for two years. His appeal against the dismissal was rejected.
He claims that the “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.”
The case continues.