The difficulty for those of us campaigning against an extreme Brexit ripping us out of the world’s largest market is that not enough people feel that the economy is nose-diving. Or at least, not nose-diving so spectacularly that they blame Brexit. Sure, they feel the economic turbulence, but they have grown used to such headwinds since the turn of the millennium - since when, for many, living standards have largely stalled.
But now the wings really are falling off Brexit Airways (this is a no-frills form of transport, destination unknown, but certainly not low-cost, with the government’s own modelling suggesting the Treasury will be £615million a week worse off as a result of Brexit). Increasingly, as we head towards a Brexit crash-landing, people, including those who voted leave, will realise that the appalling job the Conservatives are making of Brexit might well cost them their own jobs.
Take Airbus. It is looking for a breakthrough later this week at the European Council meeting, or else. It was a brave announcement, that if we don’t secure a decent trade deal, it is likely to move factories and jobs abroad - brave not for the act of leaving but for coming out and saying it. For so many other companies, especially in the service sector, are just quietly getting on with setting up new departments and branches abroad. They aren’t press releasing it because they don’t want to highlight their difficulties or end up another knife-crime statistic courtesy of the Daily Mail. But for many firms the tipping point when they had to make a decision on their Brexit future has passed. They looked to Theresa May for leadership and all they got was bluster (itself normally contradicted five minutes later). Even if David Davis suddenly regained control of his senses and announced that we were staying in the Single Market and Customs Union it would at best raise an ironic cheer from those who have already re-located to Frankfurt or Dublin.
So why did Airbus risk such an announcement? Because this wasn’t a threat. This was the first stage of its disinvestment from the UK; the risk of a no-deal Brexit is now simply too great, and too soon. Even a company the size of Airbus cannot afford to risk £1billion a week. It will no longer take on new UK suppliers or increase its business with existing domestic suppliers. British suppliers will now have to obtain airworthy certification from other European countries – UK certification will effectively become worthless (but hey, we are “taking back control”). So jobs will be lost and communities damaged. And this is before Airbus even decides on the futures of its own 25 sites in the UK employing 14,000 people. This, then, is not Project Fear – it is Project Reality. Or, if you will, Project Parachute.
It will only take a handful of high tech engineering companies of the size and prestige of Airbus to make such a pronouncement and you could quickly see how the quiet march could degenerate into a stampede to get out of Brexit Britain. The Airbus supply chain in the UK: 4,000 companies and 110,000 jobs. Just think about the damage. And think also of the political power of these people if they all protested to their MPs.
And this is where Theresa May has to stop kicking the can down the street (boy must this be a long street, so long has she been kicking it). Dinosaurs of the Thatcher era such as David Davis live off too many memories of “The Iron Lady” announcing to the British media that she had won some great deal at a summit from those beastly Europeans after delivering a good “hand-bagging” (I don’t exaggerate: this was the language, and then the Brexiteers wonder why there isn’t more goodwill towards Britain now). But they miss the important point that this isn’t like one of those late-night summits haggling over a rebate. Business needs to plan, and many have simply run out of time and patience as ministers argue among themselves over rival trade arrangements the EU have already rejected.
It breaks my heart to think of jobs lost and families devastated by potential Airbus job losses. But if there is any positive in this, perhaps even at this late hour, it is that as MPs start to receive letters from constituents worried about their jobs, pressure can still be brought.
This is much more than a row about deceitful slogans on buses. If Brexit is a plane crash, the pilot is out of the cockpit arguing with the cabin crew while ground control is screaming “mayday, mayday”. Credit at least to Airbus for refusing to follow the order over the tannoy – which is, terrifyingly, “brace, brace”.
Layla Moran is the Lib Dem MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, and a champion of Best for Britain