Editorial: Made in Britain…

Author : Mark Gradwell, EPDT's Consultant Editor

04 September 2018

Mark Gradwell, Consultant Editor of EPDT
Mark Gradwell, Consultant Editor of EPDT

At 11pm UK time on Friday, 29th March 2019, the UK is scheduled to leave the European Union. This follows Theresa May invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, 9 months after the EU referendum in May 2016, giving 2 years’ notice of the UK’s intention to leave.

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Since then, Brexit has rarely been out of the news, and plenty has happened, but we don’t seem much closer to really knowing exactly what Brexit will mean and bring – for the public, for business and industry (including electronics design and manufacturing), and for the wider economy.

The UK government, struggling to agree a consensus even within its own ranks, has been slow to outline its plans for a new relationship with Europe – and its proposals have been met with scepticism from the EU, business, the media and the markets. The prospect of leaving without a deal now looms ever larger, despite the fact that for some time, multiple voices within the business, industrial and manufacturing communities have warned of the potential catastrophic consequences of no deal.

Their concerns have been echoed and amplified by many trade organisations that represent the engineering and manufacturing industries. And the uncertainty and mounting concern continues to send shockwaves through the economy, impacting currency values, prices and investment decisions.

Manufacturers, including those in our sector, are rightly concerned about supply chain access and continuity, as well as the effect on prices of currency fluctuations and the transition to WTO tariffs and rules – for both imports and exports. Meanwhile, to continue to access our largest export market (the EU), those manufacturers will have to continue to adhere to EU regulations and standards.

International technology businesses who have often used the UK as a stepping stone to access Europe may reconsider where to establish their base. Access to skilled labour post-Brexit is also a serious concern for many manufacturing and design firms, especially given the engineering skills gap that the UK still faces.

Of course, proponents of Brexit argue that it will open up new opportunities and markets for British manufacturing and trade. But meanwhile, uncertainty and worry about the impending leave deadline, potential consequences and the pain of transition are exerting a paralysing effect on industry. It is difficult for businesses to effectively plan with so many issues unresolved.

The opposition also seems to remain committed to Brexit. And there have been mixed responses to Jeremy Corbyn’s launch of Labour’s new ‘Build it in Britain’ campaign – which he says seeks to ensure a stronger future for industry and support better jobs and opportunities. The strategy advocates stronger support for, and investment in, British industry and manufacturing.

More public money and government purchasing power would be used to support home workers and industries (rather than contracts going to overseas). This would be underpinned with increased investment in both infrastructure and education, skills and lifelong learning, to support British companies. Some have denounced it as protectionism, or compared it to Trump’s Make America Great Again campaign, but UK industry and manufacturing have been calling out for these things for years.

It’s hard to know how Brexit will play out, but whatever happens, UK engineering, design and manufacturing are a vital contributor to our economy, and have much to offer to the rest of the world – so we will have to find ways to make it work. Let’s hope those responsible for determining how Brexit plays out can help show the way…

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