Unite's Assistant General Secretary on why a ‘cliff edge’ or hard Brexit would be a disaster for the UK
It started with Dominic Rabb, the new Brexit secretary refusing to confirm that the government were stockpiling food and medicines or that parts of the UK’s southern stretches of motorway could become lorry parks if there was a hard Brexit.
It was only a matter of days before the Prime Minister announced she was in charge and went on to admit that plans for stockpiling food were now being put into place in case of a no deal or hard Brexit.
Unite has consistently warned that a ‘cliff edge’ or hard Brexit would hit UK manufacturing hard. We want to see an agreement reached that provides for frictionless trade, a customs union and access to a single market.
But now there is a great deal of pessimism among manufacturing companies and employer organisations and there is now no doubt some companies are taking steps to prepare for a cliff edge or hard Brexit.
Following public statements on the perils of a hard Brexit from companies such as Airbus, Nissan, BMW, Siemens, Jaguar LandRover and others – and a lobby of parliament by Unite shop stewards from manufacturing – we warned that the “just in time” supply chain could break down.
It was reported that Honda’s giant plant in Swindon – which receives 2 million components a day through the free movement of goods – would have to stockpile a minimum of nine days’ worth of components. To do this Honda would need to erect a warehouse three times the size of Wembley Stadium which would be the third largest building on earth.
If there is a hard Brexit there are massive implications for workers in manufacturing and not just in large companies. Small and medium sized companies, many in the supply chain rely on contracts and work from larger companies would be badly hit. Many of them would not be able to withstand the disruption a hard Brexit would cause – threatening thousands of jobs across the country. Airbus told Unite recently that the firm could lose £1 billion a week if a hard Brexit stops their “just in time” supply chain, including wings travelling for assembly from some 4,000 UK suppliers that employ more than 100,000 staff.
Hardline Brexitremists of course will blame the EU for ‘bullying’ and make out we are leaving the EU at the point of a gun – and of course they will dismiss the real concerns of manufacturers and our members as ‘project fear’.
The reality is that the Government fails to admit that manufacturing and industry is interconnected with supply chains that are extremely complex. They still cling onto the idea that we can unplug ourselves from Europe and replug ourselves into other trading partners the US, South America or South East Asia.
Consultation has now begun on what industry would want from three possible’ trade deals’: with Trump in the USA, with Australia and New Zealand and with 20 plus Pacific Rim (TPP) countries. This is farcical and is being done to make it look like Liam Fox is doing something. There is no strategy to negotiate such deals or a timescale mapped out – its pie in the sky and cannot replace the loss of our biggest trading partner – the EU.
Unite has also been clear that will defend members jobs and will not allow companies to simply move out of the UK because of Brexit. Companies have a responsibility to our members and we will fight to ensure they uphold that responsibility.
To secure a deal that maintains frictionless trade with the EU, secures investment and protects decent jobs in manufacturing Theresa May must listen to UK manufacturing and unions and she has to face down the cabal of hard right. Brextremist MPs who do not care about manufacturing, decent jobs or communities and pretend that all will be well – it won’t be.
Tony Burke is Assistant General Secretary at Unite the Union
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