Tony Burke: Uncertainty and posturing are the wrong way to go about Brexit

The Prime Minister intends to ‘trigger’ Article 50 at the end of this month – giving notice to quit the European Union. When that happens the consequences of a hard Brexit will stare the country and especially the Brextremists in the face.

Already Unite is encountering signs of uncertainty in the manufacturing and construction sectors.

The fact that the economy is floating on a bed of unsustainable household credit has masked the uncertainty we have been seeing – at its most visible in our automotive sector, with recent statements by Nissan, BMW, Ford, and GM sounding the warning bells.

As the Budget unravelled over increased national insurance contributions for the self-employed, with PM kicking a final decision into the long grass, the Office For National Statistics (ONS) announced that the UK’s industrial sector shrank in January; bringing the country’s annual growth rate sharply down after it hit a six-year high at the end of 2016.

High-street sales also dropped to their lowest February figure since 2009, and the ONS reported that a 1.8 percent increase in construction output in December turned into a 0.4 percent decline in January, though the fall was expected.

Chris Williamson, chief economist of the Markit data firm, said: “The sluggish growth indicated by the surveys and official data at the start of 2017 suggest that the economy is growing at only a modest pace in the first quarter, and looks susceptible to further weakening in coming months.”

The problem is compounded by the Government’s refusal to heed warnings from manufacturers and Unite over their failure to confirm that continued membership of a tariff free single market and membership of the Customs Union are paramount.

The Tories have failed to develop a convincing industrial strategy to protect manufacturing from the buffeting headwinds Brexit will bring.
They have also failed to pump sufficient funds into preparing for the coming digital revolution.

Chancellor Hammond announced a meagre £270 million to help develop research and skills in robotics, bio-science, electric vehicles, battery technology – a figure, which Hammond claimed, would put the UK at the ‘forefront’ of the digital revolution.

It isn’t nearly enough.

Compare it with President Obama’s commitment $6bn over ten years just into developing electric vehicles.

Getting a good deal from the Brexit negotiations is going to take much more than Boris Johnson suggesting the UK should not pay any heed (or cash) to the EU, Michael Gove talking up the chances of minor trade deals and the PM telling the EU she will turn the UK into a ‘pound shop Britain’ if she doesn’t get her way.

For workers with decent jobs in manufacturing – and for their companies – uncertainty and posturing is not the way to do business.