THE BLOG
25/01/2019 09:14 GMT | Updated 25/01/2019 09:14 GMT

Theresa May Must Stand Up For The Millions Of Workers On A Brexit Cliff Edge

We must not stand idly by as employers use Brexit as an excuse to shed jobs or walk away from Britain

Leon Neal via Getty Images

So the rats are deserting the sinking ship, raising their anchors and sailing towards a rising eastern sun. Shifting their money, along with their production lines, to less choppy waters, away from the impending disaster that is a Tory hard Brexit.

Such is the terror of UK Plc falling off a cliff on 29 March, we’ve got Pets at Home hoarding pet food for fear of a no-deal Brexit dog’s breakfast, while manufacturers and their integrated supply chains struggle to find either warehousing or financing for long-term storage. Our health secretary Matthew Hancock even boasts that the NHS is now the biggest buyer of fridges in the world.

If that as a strategy for stockpiling vital medicines indicates the seriousness of our government’s approach then forgive working people for not being impressed.

P&O meanwhile, the ferry firm that, unlike Seaborne Freight, really does have boats, follows the example of Easyjet and re-registers its vessels inside the EU, this time under the Cypriot flag, while entertainment giant Sony joins Unilever in the race to Amsterdam.

At least P&O’s re-flagging is intended to continue moving goods around the UK. James Dyson has never shown such loyalty to our country. That darling of the Brexit right and proud UK entrepreneur is shifting his HQ to Singapore, along with production of electric vehicles, despite the £16million the UK government - you and me as UK taxpayers - gave him for electric battery development.

And then there’s Jacob Rees-Mogg, whose international investment firm has put its faith in post-Brexit Britain by heading west, with his investment funds intact, to retain all the benefits of remaining in his despised EU, via offices in Ireland.

We could be excused for believing this is just free market capitalism doing what it does best - protecting its ability to trade profitably while shifting huge profits into the hands of tax dodging hedge funds or an already grossly rich corporate elite. But it’s happening just when we need both government and business to champion UK Plc - to invest in the new products, skills and jobs that offer some hope of a bright post-Brexit world to communities already battered by globalisation and decades of political and economic failure.

Instead we are witnessing a sense of fight-or-flight, with flight pulling the hardest while government infighting, inaction and abject failure to intervene in support of the national interest betrays the very people it purports to represent.

Couple this with recent announcements by our ‘jewel in the crown’ carmakers such as Jaguar Land Rover, BMW, Honda and Ford of job losses and production shut downs, and the failure of Vauxhall owner PSA to commit to a new model for its iconic Ellesmere Port plant.

Then there’s the closure of an historic 163-year-old shipyard at Appledore, Airbus’ threats to head into the heart of Europe with future investments, and hundreds of job cuts at Cooper Tires and Michelin. Clearly, we are in very real danger of breaking the backbone of the UK economy. 

So let’s return to what’s motivating James Dyson. When we have a ready-made skilled workforce in need of jobs and keen to apply those skills to building his new electric cars, why won’t Dyson simply utilise and support them, rather than jumping ship? The UK workforce is amongst the best in the world, yet he’s administered to them, and our economy, a brutal kick in the teeth.

Dyson claims he needs to be closer to where his firm’s fastest growing markets are. But given his claim that his biggest market is China, which is currently exhibiting its poorest growth since 1990, I might be forgiven for suspecting the billionaire Brexit-backing boss is off to Singapore to enjoy low taxes, advantageous loans and other incentives derived from the country’s aggressive industrial strategy, along with continued access to the EU.

Didn’t Singapore sign three free trade agreements with the EU last October, which will, ironically, give his company better access to European markets post-Brexit than he could hope for from the UK?

Yes I’m cynical about Dyson’s motives, as I am others leaving our shores while continuing to exploit our market from overseas, taking flight in the drive for increased profits from lower taxes or cheaper labour. Arguably of course, Dyson isn’t leaving because of Brexit – though Brexit is certainly in no small way a result of Dyson’s determination to leave the EU.

Instead of making Dyson’s excuses at PMQs, ministers should put some active effort into encouraging him and others to invest here. It’s time this government intervened in support of UK Plc, ending its obsession with free market economics and instead standing up for our manufacturing industries. They desperately need long-term stability, central government support and both regional and national investment to sustain our already depleted skills base, to protect our engineering, research and development capabilities and to fund long overdue upgrades to vital national infrastructure.

And to employers either using Brexit as an excuse to shed jobs, cut terms and conditions, or walk away from Britain, let there be no doubt. Unite and our hard working members will not stand idly by. We will fight, industrially and politically, to protect our members, their families and the communities that rely on those jobs.

For now though, the prime minister must drop her Brexit red lines and stand up, not for her party, but for UK Plc, for manufacturing and the millions of workers whose lives are on the cliff edge. 

Steve Turner is Unite assistant general secretary, with responsibility for manufacturing