Unite has cautiously welcomed an agreement between the UK and Michigan to collaborate on autonomous cars and other developments in road transport, warning that it should not be interpreted as a precursor to a beneficial post-Brexit trade deal with the US.
A memorandum of understanding was signed today (April 23) between Michigan governor Rick Snyder and UK business minister Richard Harrington pledging collaboration on the future of automotive technology.
Three quarters of US automotive research and development occurs in Michigan, which is home to the country’s car manufacturing capital Detroit.
In an interview with Politico, Snyder said the agreement was a “great opportunity” in terms of “looking at the future of autonomous vehicles, mobility and the supply chain”.
In Michigan, Snyder explained, Brexit is viewed as “something where the UK most likely will be turning to America, because of the historical relationships that exist”.
Snyder’s comments will be gratefully received by Theresa May’s government, which has been keen to talk up the UK’s close links to the US during a time when the country’s relationship with the EU – Britain’s biggest trading partner – is increasingly uncertain.
However, Unite assistant general secretary Tony Burke urged caution.
“While this memorandum of understanding maybe seen as a positive development, the government cannot be allowed to wave the agreement about as a future indicator of Britain’s post-Brexit relationship with the USA,” Burke said.
“Signing a massive trade deal with the Trump administration is something completely different to a friendly agreement to collaborate over electric vehicles between the UK and a single US state.
“Nor can this memorandum be used by the government to distract from its woeful progress in securing a deal with the EU that protects the cross border trade links between the UK and the continent that are absolutely vital to the health of our world class automotive industry.”
Burke added, “It may well be helpful to have dialogue with the state of Michigan, which is at the heart of the US car industry. Unite sees it as vital we have dialogue with unions in the auto industry including Germany, France and the USA.
“It is interesting to see that the UK government is taking an interest in electric vehicles, but if the government is serious about securing the future of the UK’s automotive industry, they will heed the call in Unite’s new strategy document for massive infrastructure and investment for the wide scale production of electric vehicles.”