‘Hands-off’ government has no plan for UK after Brexit, Unite research reveals

Research by Unite has revealed that the government is failing to work with and direct key industries in overcoming the highly complex challenges involved in leaving the European Union.

The government’s ‘hands off’ approach is likely to jeopardise investment, jobs and the skills the economy needs, Unite warns.

The concerns were voiced ahead of the Brexit debate (Sunday 10 September) at this year’s TUC Congress in Brighton, where Unite’s general secretary Len McCluskey warned that a Tory Brexit puts jobs at risk.

The union says that responses it has obtained under the freedom of information provisions suggest that the government has, as yet, no plan for the economy once the UK exits the European Union, preferring to leave it to industry to dictate.

Unite asked a series of Freedom of Information (FoI) questions to four different government departments, concerning the following sectors: construction, food processing, agriculture, aerospace, chemicals, manufacturing, higher education and finance.

All of these sectors contain a significant number of European migrant workers. Unite asked “what assessment or estimate has been made of how many non-UK workers are currently required?” and “what assessment or estimate has been made of how many non-UK workers will be required for the first five years after the UK exits the European Union?”

None of the departments were able to answer the questions.

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy which is responsible for the aerospace, chemicals, construction and manufacturing sectors stated: “Industry is best placed to estimate its future skills needs.”

Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey said: “These responses are worrying indeed. Of course industry has a key role in advising on its labour needs but government should not be taking a backseat when it comes to key industrial sectors.

“These answers give further cause to be concerned that the government has no clear vision for the UK out of the EU.

“Preserving jobs and maintaining our industrial sectors should be at the heart of the Brexit process, and that message is not coming loud and clear from the government.

“The idea that industry is best placed to estimate and tackle its future skills needs is not tenable. Business’s priority is not the national interest but profits and shareholders’ return.

“Brexit is the most complex political issue that the UK has had to contend with in the last 50 years. That is why the government must be providing direction and clarity on the sort of economy and country we seek to be. The present hands-off approach, however, is far from a plan; it’s an abdication of responsibility.

Unite also asked the Department of BEIS and the Treasury how many ‘letters of assurance’ relating to Brexit have been issued in the aerospace, automotive, chemicals and finance sectors. Both departments replied that they do not hold such information.

McCluskey added: “We urge the government to set out now what its aims for industry are and not to keep workers in the dark.”

“Jobs and investment are on the line here, and there is a still uncertainty about our place in the single market and within a customs union as the Conservative party continues to wrestle with itself on this.

“The UK leaves the EU in a little more than 18 months’ time. Working people urgently need to know that their interests and the national interest trumps the internal divisions within the Tory party.”