The Leave campaign’s economic answers have now melted away

The Brexit team must negotiate an impossible web of red lines


Remember the days before the Brexit vote, when the Leave campaign assured the nation that all would be fine if we left the EU?

When they told the UK that triggering this mysterious Article 50, which gives notice to leave the EU, could be done with the minimum of fuss?

When UK voters were told that the EU would not dare deny the UK access to the single market? And if they did, well, there was the fall back of the EEA (Norway/Switzerland deal) plus European countries and others would be queuing up to do trade deals with us – hi Australia and a USA presided over by Donald Trump!.

And when the Brexiters were reminded the UK did not have the capacity to negotiate highly complex trade deals the UK was told  – not to worry our civil servants will sort it all out in the end.

That was only five weeks ago – and how times have changed.

The warning signs were there the day after Brexit when Stefan Löfven, Sweden’s Prime Minister — a decent man and former president of the Swedish Metal Workers Union — told a Newsnight interviewer point blank that there was no possibility of an EEA (Norway style) deal with access to the single market without free movement of labour.

Since then Theresa May has met Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande, whose message will have been the same.

The task of untangling the web of untruths and false promises and coming up with a workable solution which halts immigration to a trickle — but also lets us eat our trade cake — has been deftly handed by Theresa May to three Leave campaigners: Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and David Davies.

The task facing them was explained recently by Lord Mark Price, now Minister of State at the Department for International Trade.

According to a report of a meeting with a group of business people he said the task facing the government was not going to be easy.

He warned that none of the existing deals such as Norway and Switzerland would work for the UK; that remaining in the single market was not feasible given the political requirements on the free movement of labour and the UK would have to secure a ‘customised’ trade agreement with the EU – which would have to be negotiated sector by sector with the EU.

Before that could happen, we would have to agree our relationship with the EU as a precursor to embarking on trade negotiations with other countries.

And as a bonus he added that the UK had a strong desire to ‘grandfather’ existing free trade agreements that the UK holds through membership of the EU as part of the Brexit talks. He also requested from business some ‘red lines’ on Brexit negotiations.

Separately, ministers seem to be unclear on triggering Article 50 and how it will be done. Fair enough – nobody has done it before – so expect fun and games.

A House Of Lords debate took place last week and Government spokesperson Lord Keen of Elie seemed to imply that there could be legal challenges to the triggering of Article 50 but the Government could use the ‘royal prerogative’ to trigger article 50 as it ended a treaty.

There has also been talk of ‘buying in’ trade negotiators with experience of dealing with complex trade deals such is the size of the task.

At its recent policy conference Unite made it clear that access to the single market was essential for manufacturing – an issue that trade associations and employers with whom we have had some discussions fully agree with. Access to a ‘tariff free’ single market is a red line, as is not triggering Article 50 until we know the how things are going to look.

Unite also made it clear there was no need to trigger article 50 – a point the Prime Minister seems to also have flagged up by kicking it into the long grass – only for Hollande to boot it right back and tell her the UK needed to get on with it.

Unite is demanding unions have a seat at the table and in the coming weeks we will be using all the levers at our disposal, including our own relationships with unions in Europe and elsewhere, to protect the interests of our members in UK manufacturing as well as defend our hard won European employment rights.

The news last week that UK economy shrank at its fastest rate since the financial crisis of seven years ago, following Brexit, with manufacturing dropping to its lowest level since February 2013, was a sharp reminder of the background the talks will take place and the Brexit chickens come home to roost.

Continuing uncertainty, delayed investment decisions mean the options for the Brexit team (who were instrumental in creating the problem) are narrowing and will become even tighter as red lines are drawn, more EU governments tell the UK to get on with it and the economic effects of Brexit start to really kick in.

Tony Burke is assistant general secretary at Unite, with responsibility for manufacturing

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8 Responses to “The Leave campaign’s economic answers have now melted away”

  1. NHSGP

    You lost.

    Now you are winging about democracy.

    Suck it up. Losers in the democratic game have to accept the result.

    Here’s a simple solution.

    Don’t bother with trade negotiators. Don’t bother with negotiating. Just walk away.

    The trade surplus means that under WTO rules, the EU has to pay the UK.

    Then we get on with a sensible migration policy. That is for economic migrants we only accept net contributors.

    That’s 12K a year in tax per migrant, and another 20K per year for adults to cover the increase in the state pension debts.

  2. Richard MacKinnon

    “The Leave campaign’s economic answers have now melted away” You might think that but it changes nothing.
    Tony, can you tell me, how many Unite members work in ‘manufacturing’ i.e. the private sector.

  3. CR

    And another Remain article supporting the neo-liberal capitalist EU club.

    What about an article on the way in which the EU has systematically attacked workers rights in Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal and now France ?

  4. Jacko

    “Unite is demanding unions have a seat at the table.”

    Like you’re in a position to demand anything.

  5. Tony Burke

    The point of the blog was to set out how the Leave campaign mislead the public on trade agreements. The evidence is there now for all to see – the public should know how they were duped, the options and the damage to the manufacturing economy the Brexit will cause.

    Richard: In all manufacturing sectors Unite has around half a million members – so we are in a position to have our voice heard.
    Unite also has the single largest number of union reps sitting on European Companies Works Councils and we have excellent releationships with our sister unions in the EU and USA/Canada.
    Our policy is to try to protect our members in manufacturing, defend the manufacturing sector, fight for investment and jobs. Workers will face very real problems as the effects of Brexit kick in, and the impending lack of access to the SM and the instroduction tariffs will damage UK manufacturing, plus the uncertainty about triggering article 50 (not a royal perogative at all – but a decison that would have to be backed in Parliament) and the threat to employment rights means Unions/Unite have every legitimate right to seek a ‘seat at the table’ we represent workers in our key industrries inclsuing autos, aerospace, engineering and science.

    CR: As for an article about Greece etc – we never said the EU was perfect and opposed the way Greece etc were treated. Ask the Greek unions of their view of Brexit. They think we have gone mad! But if you want to write a blog on it feel free!

  6. Gerry Toner

    Leave, Remain and the EU lied and are still lying. The EU is a dysfunctional arrangement that cannot sustain legitimate support amongst a significant majority. It is not simply in UK that there is doubt. Leavers are running for cover to ensure they maintain the privilege that goes with their victory. Remains are trying to re-energise their support for the pig trough politics that EU represents by repeating the ‘duped’ and ‘stupid’ argument. The people are the losers. LFF should attempt a more serious analysis than this splurge.

  7. Roy

    The surefire ways of reducing immigration are 1) make us poorer than the countries of origin of would be migrants so they don’t want to come here and 2) make the countries of origin richer than us, so we all want to go there. Simples! But nobody in the Leave camp put it quite like that, did they?

  8. Richard MacKinnon

    I just checked Unite website. There is nothing about member numbers, so I cut and pasted this from wikipedia
    “Membership levels[edit]
    A private presentation given by Unite’s former joint general secretary Tony Woodley showed that membership of the union had stood at 1.44 million in 2007 but declined by 262,740 between 2007 and 2010. [3] During 2012, despite wider falling trade union membership & the tough economic climate, Unite increased its membership by more than 50,000 members.[4]” .
    So when I read your claim “In all manufacturing sectors Unite has around half a million members – so we are in a position to have our voice heard.” what am I to believe? that nearly half of Unite members work in the private sector?
    Tony, we are not all as stupid as you think. Your outrages exagerations insult the intelligence. If you are unable to be honest it is you that is the stupid one.

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