Editor's comment: The 'B' word…

Author : Mark Gradwell | Editor | EPDT

01 May 2019

Mark Gradwell, Editor, EPDT
Mark Gradwell, Editor, EPDT

We've now passed not only the Article 50-triggered 29th March date for leaving the EU, but also the (first) extension date of April 12th – but like a long-running soap opera, Brexit rumbles on. Parliament remains deadlocked, strong feelings & deep divisions persist, while much of business (and Europe) looks on aghast.

This editorial was originally featured in the May 2019 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. Sign up to receive your own copy each month.

So as the EU27 agree another extension to 31st October (with the option to leave earlier if a deal can be agreed), meaning the UK must take part in European parliamentary elections at the end of May (unless MPs ratify the thrice-rejected withdrawal agreement by 22nd May), the clock starts ticking towards the next (Hallowe’en) cliff-edge…

The UK’s behaviour as an EU member state will also be reviewed at a European summit in June, after France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, expressed concerns about Britain’s capacity to undermine the European project. And back in London, Theresa May sent exhausted MPs home for a 10-day Easter break, urging them to “reflect on the decisions that will have to be made swiftly on our return”, stressing she would continue to pursue cross-party talks aimed at finding a consensus.

Brexit has dominated both the news cycle and parliamentary process for 3 years, and now looks certain to continue to do so for at least another 6 months. Despite many people being sick and tired (or bored) of it, it still remains arguably the single biggest issue facing our nation. And it continues to inspire almost religious fervour on both sides. Perhaps for that reason, many businesses, industry and trade associations, and indeed, trade press publications have avoided taking too partisan a position.

However, as things have come to a head over the past few weeks, some industry organisations have started to break ranks. In the week before the April 12th deadline, Make UK (formerly the EEF), which represents 20,000 UK manufacturing, engineering and technology-based businesses (and is the UK’s largest sectoral employers’ organisation), wrote to the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition calling for Article 50 to be revoked if government could not agree a deal to pass in Parliament that week. The letter was co-signed by Scottish Engineering, EEF NI and Manufacturing NI. A few days later, Ceemet, the European Tech & Industry Employers organisation(representing over 200,000 manufacturers large and small across the continent), and Make UK co-signed a letter to EU27 heads of state and EU Brexit Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier urging them to work with the UK Government to avoid a catastrophic no deal Brexit – and the economic damage it would bring to both British and EU firms.

Last week, I listened to Make UK’s Chief Economist present its Q1 Manufacturing Outlook – which despite reporting stable output, highlighted some worrying trends. In the face of continuing Brexit uncertainty, stockpiling rather than consumer orders is driving output – and manufacturers are opting to hire short-term staff, rather than make long-term investments in productivity-enhancing equipment. And yet, the gentleman sitting next to me insisted his anecdotal experience of talking to a few SME manufacturers in one sector refuted this, and everyone should just be more positive – and then tutted as the presenter tried to politely explain why his macro-economic analysis may trump a limited dataset.

As announcements from the automotive industry, among others, highlight the consequences of Brexit, (and although I understand the reasons why they have been reluctant to do so) it is hard to disagree with another editor who remarked that perhaps industry associations should have spoken up earlier – and been more outspokenly robust in their criticism of the economic consequences of Brexit.

EPDT May’s issue contains features on Lighting technologies & Rail applications, as well as EPDT's annual PXI for Test & Measurement supplement. Read more on what's inside EPDT this month...

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