The Tories’ first week of explaining Brexit has been tortuous

Every government statement has been rebuffed or contradicted

Image: Number 10

The Tory Government had a tortuous first week in explaining its Brexit strategy at home and abroad. On almost every statement they were either rebuffed on contradicted – showing that they are confused and indeed bereft of any real plan.

The week commenced in China at the G20 Summit when President Obama repeating that the U.S.’s priority would be to secure a new trade deal with the European Union – rather than focus their energies on a deal with the UK.

This was followed swiftly by an unexpected and totally unprecedented document issued by the government of Japan expressing its disquiet at Brexit and the lack of any strategic plan by the UK government – and importantly how it will effect Japanese companies operating here and in the EU.

Theresa May and the Brexit trio of Ministers (Davis, Johnson and Fox) were left floundering by the Japanese statement which was undoubtedly a result of Japanese companies in the UK notably Nissan, Toyota, Honda and others deciding to issue the stark warnings as a united front.

The UK media immediately picked up on the Japanese document and the item was soon leading news bulletins. The response from the government was lamentable plus the media called in other EU politicians to make comment.

These included politicians in Ireland who were critical of the lack of any post-Brexit plan and from Italy who made it clear that the Brexit vote and in particular restrictions on the free movement of people, would find few supporters in the EU.

However, all was not lost! The Brexiteers received a short lived boost when Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he would negotiate a ‘very strong Free Trade Agreement with the UK’ after Brexit. 24 hours later Australian Minister for Trade Steven Ciobo threw cold water on that plan, indicating that there would be no deal with Australia until they had a trade deal with the EU.

Back to the drawing board.

In the House of Commons on Monday 5th David Davis gave the first ‘explanation’ of government policy from the despatch box which was in effect vacuous waffle peppered with statements such as the UK being a ‘beacon’ and vague talk of ’roundtables with stakeholders in a series of sectors.’

All of this was met with cries of  ‘waffle’ and barracking from the Labour benches, with Labour’s Brexit spokesperson, Emily Thornberry landing punches on the complete lack of policy, membership of the Single Market and the triggering of Article 50.

The Tories will find it even more difficult in the coming months as manufacturers and trade unions in manufacturing set how they believe Brexit should be handled, what are the key priorities and a clear refusal to see manufacturing traded off to appease the hard line Brexiteers — those who want out now and at any price, such as Iain Duncan Smith who said members of the Cabinet were keen to start the formal process of leaving the EU in 2017 — only to find others in the Tory party arguing that triggering Article 50 could not take place until later 2017 at the very earliest.

The promises of ‘business as usual’ and other counties banging at our doors to sign trade deals from the hard line leavers are going nowhere.

Their overly optimistic statements about securing trade deals within two years along the lines of the ‘Norway option’ or the ‘Swiss option’, are looking like wishful thinking – as are the ‘Canadian option’ and latterly the ‘Australian option’.

Those leavers at any price appear to be happy to abandon the UK economy and manufacturing to WTO rules which will cause untold damage to industry, jobs, investment and exports.

Equally, the Prime Minister’s insistence that she will use the Royal Prerogative to trigger Article 50 was rightly criticised by Labour’s Barry Gardiner, who described May as operating like a ‘Tudor Monarch’ — ending treaties without consulting Parliament.  Given that one of the aims of the Brexiteers was to bring back the sovereignty of Parliament, the Prime Minister making a decision without it being debated and endorsed by Parliament smacks of hypocrisy.

The mixed messages on the Single Market, the slapping down of David Davis over expressing his own opinions about what trade deals are achievable, and potential legal arguments on Article 50 will continue to dog the government and to create uncertainty for manufacturers and our members working in manufacturing companies.

The next few months will see manufacturers’ organisations and trade unions set out their views on what Brexit should look like for manufacturing, jobs and investment.

At the moment everything in the garden seems rosy but expect stormy waters ahead as the pressure piles on the government to sort out what is its Brexit policy devoid of ‘waffle’.

They will need to listen to the views of manufacturers and the people who actually make the economy work.

Tony Burke is assistant general secretary of Unite responsible for manufacturing

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