Unite warns of hard Brexit disaster for aerospace industry

Unite has warned that a hard Brexit will be a disaster for the competitiveness of the aerospace industry and British jobs in the sector.

The union says defence supply chains face severe border delays, while the sector’s already severe skills gap will be exacerbated, should the UK crash out of the EU without a trade deal.

Unite’s concerns came as Britain’s aerospace exporters told parliament of a “crippling £1.5bn-a-year headwind” if the government fails to agree urgent new customs and regulatory deals with the EU.

Boeing and the aerospace trade group ADS have both set out the impact of increased border checks, estimating that it will add £1.5bn in costs for the UK aerospace industry, in their evidence to the House of Commons business select committee.

Unite’s own submission to the committee points out that while aerospace is, unlike other manufacturing sectors, exempt from tariffs under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, its vital supply chains are not disrupted or subject to severe delays.

Steve Turner, Unite assistant general secretary, said: “Over a million components and other items are sent across the English Channel every year during the construction of aircraft engines and components, satellites, wings and control systems as well as for the final assembly of fighter aircraft. Any delays at the borders caused by the government’s failure to secure unrestricted access to the customs union post-Brexit will be a disaster for the competitiveness of the industry.

“Unite organises tens of thousands of members across the aerospace industry, from major manufacturing and assembly sites through the research, design and development operations. In addition, Unite represents thousands of workers in the defence and aerospace supply and distribution chain.

“With over 50,000 defence jobs being lost over the last decade and BAE Systems proposing a further 2,000 job cuts, we know all too well how quickly employment within the aerospace sector can be put at risk through cuts in government spending and decisions to procure overseas, alongside MoD policy changes.

“The government has so far failed to listen to calls to spend the UK’s defence budget to support British jobs, skills and our communities but it must now listen to the warnings of both the unions and employers that without barrier-free access to the European market and a customs arrangement with the EU, the impact on our members’ jobs could be calamitous.”

He also warned of the impact of a cliff-edge Brexit on skills in the industry.

“The aerospace sector already faces a severe skills shortage which is likely to worsen in the coming years. Engineering UK has stated that the skills gap will reach 800,000 by 2020 if current trends continue. The sector needs to be able to retain and access the best talent among EU workers currently employed in it and closing the skills gap, which would be exacerbated by a hard Brexit, must be central to the government’s industrial strategy.”