Former PM Gordon Brown says no to hard Brexit

In a major intervention, former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown this week warned that Britain’s world class automotive industry is under dire threat from a hard Brexit pledged by the Tories, echoing almost exactly Unite’s views put forward in a recent auto film released by the union last month.

Brown reiterated Unite’s call in a Mirror column today (May 11) ahead of his visit this afternoon to two major auto manufacturing sites – the Jaguar Land Rover plant in Coventry where 8,000 people are employed and the Vauxhall plant in Ellesmere Port, recently bought out by the French owners of Peugeot, where another 2,100 work.

The former prime minister highlighted why the UK’s auto industry is so successful.

“Vehicle manufacturing contributes £15.8bn to the UK economy and 9.4 per cent of manufacturing output,” he noted.

“But it’s a car industry with a huge advantage we’ve built that differs from our past: we are so competitive and productive that we export 80 per cent of what we produce. And, by beating foreign competitors, half of all cars and vehicles produced in Britain are today sold into the European Union.

“What’s more, the British car industry is so integrated with mainland Europe that hundreds of millions of parts and components go back and forward before we assemble the completed car in Britain,” Brown went on to say.

“Any disruption to this integrated European supply chain, such as charging tariffs at £1,000- £2,000 extra per car, imposing custom barriers and losing crippling legal actions over rules of origin – will instantly threaten British jobs and livelihoods.”

He argued that the vast majority of the country is behind a considered Brexit that supports jobs and the UK’s key industries.

“Every opinion poll shows, what I seek for jobs — free trade and easy access for selling our goods in the European market — is overwhelmingly supported by both Leave and Remain,” he said. “It’s the one negotiating aim — that we bargain for tariff-free and friction-free access for our manufacturers – that could unite the country under a common national objective if unity is what the Conservatives really seek.”

Such “tariff-free and friction-free access” is precisely what Unite has called for in its auto film, which features voices from workers, government and industry.

In the film JLR Solihull plant convenor, Mick Graham, explains, “We really could do with the government coming out and committing that they will continue to secure us single market access on our current basis.”

Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders CEO, Mike Hawes agrees.

“Globally if you’re to be successful you need industry, you need the workforce and you need government to act as one to make sure you remain competitive,” he notes in the film.

We hear too from shadow business secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey, who argues that it is government’s role “to provide a fertile business environment, so that businesses take those risks, they take those investment decisions, they expand their assets, their machinery, their workforce.”

Unite ultimately calls for a Brexit that supports jobs, no tariffs, full market access, investment in skills and apprenticeships as well as advancements in emerging technology – all which will be virtually impossible in a hard Brexit scenario, as Brown today pointed out.

Unite assistant general secretary Tony Burke said he was “very pleased” that in his column for today’s Mirror Brown reflected the views of Unite.

“I’m very pleased with Gordon Brown’s intervention, reflecting Unite’s views on manufacturing and Brexit,” he said.

“Gordon Brown is absolutely right in warning about the effects of the government’s hard Brexit policies on manufacturing. He speaks about the need for a frictionless supply chain or we will lose jobs.

“If these calls go unheeded the government will destroy automotive industry jobs – in firms like JLR where Gordon visited today – and throughout the UK’s industry.

“We must all continue to hammer away at the government so that they get the message – manufacturing must be a Brexit negotiating priority,” concluded Burke.