Make UK highlighted the fact that its chief executive wanted to see “an end to the rancour and political chaos of the last few years”.
The strong tone of chief executive Stephen Phipson’s remarks might come as a surprise to many in Brexit Britain who have been spun a yarn by some arch-Leavers that departure from the EU is a sure-fire way of returning mighty Blighty to its previously much more grand position on the world stage.
And the tone appeared to exude frustration, something that would be entirely justified.
Amid all the misinformation, Mr Phipson had some crucial facts and figures at hand as he called for the “reset” of the relationship, to boost UK economic growth.
Mr Phipson said of the UK’s relationship with the EU: “While the unity of the response towards Ukraine has eased some of the tensions with the EU, the political mismanagement of our economy and damage to the reputation of the UK as a partner on such a grand scale, together with the disregard of the rule of law in our political system, cannot continue.”
He did not elaborate on the rule of law point.
However, the EU last summer announced legal action against the UK over the Northern Ireland protocol, claiming a breach of international law as the Conservative Government engaged in some serious sabre-rattling.
Changes to the protocol arrangements have since been negotiated.
It would surely be very difficult to disagree with Mr Phipson’s statement on Tuesday about “damage to the reputation of the UK as a partner on such a grand scale”. And this issue is most certainly worth exploring further.
A survey published this week by Make UK showed companies from both the EU and further afield are now significantly more cautious about supplying into the UK.
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Make UK, which represents around 20,000 companies of all sizes from start-ups to multinationals, across engineering, manufacturing, technology and the wider industrial sector, said: “This could be for a range of reasons including the difficult political relationships affecting trade between the UK and EU, the trading landscape having become practically more difficult with the EU, the prospect of regulatory divergence, and the broader global challenge for competitiveness being played out between economic superpowers including the EU.”
There is plenty in this range of reasons to think about, at least for those who are open-minded enough to reflect on the real-world consequences of Brexit and the track record of the Conservative Government.
The survey found 48% of EU suppliers are now more cautious about supplying the UK.
Make UK also observed this week that it had earlier this year published figures showing more than four in 10 companies – 43% – think the “political chaos of the last year has damaged the image of the UK as a place for foreign direct investment”.
There is no doubt that, in a post-Brexit Britain with two changes of prime minister in a matter of weeks last year, there is plenty in the behaviour of the UK Government to warrant frustration for anyone with an interest in economic prosperity and living standards.
Things are surely tough enough on the global stage for the UK without those in charge taking actions which severely impede the country’s progress for political and ideological reasons. Yet the UK Government has diminished the labour pool dramatically with the ending of free movement of people between the UK and European Economic Area Countries, while ending frictionless trade with the country’s biggest trading partner and world’s largest free-trade bloc.
Mr Phipson, looking objectively at what needs to happen now, declared: “We need to reset our political and trading relationship with the EU, which has been marked by such rancour.”
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He did “applaud” Prime Minister Rishi Sunak for his “positive approach” in agreeing changes to the Northern Ireland protocol arrangements with the EU, which were put in place before the UK’s exit from the single market to avoid the re-emergence of a hard border on the island of Ireland.
However, Mr Phipson’s remarks also highlighted major problems in the Conservatives’ approach in recent years.
Mr Phipson said: “I want to applaud the positive approach taken by the Prime Minister, which shows what can be achieved when you work pragmatically and collaboratively rather than thumping the table or issuing threats.”
He added: “Hopefully the agreement reached last week will be the beginning of a new chapter whereby the UK and EU can jointly focus on deepening cooperation through the TCA (Trade and Cooperation Agreement), finding mechanisms to solve current disruptions in trade, as well as building a framework that benefits businesses and boosts growth on both sides.”
There should be plenty of food for thought for Mr Sunak and his fellow Brexiters in what Make UK is telling them. If they actually want a strong economy, and it is far from clear that they do, they should chew it all over and act accordingly.
There was plenty also in British Chambers of Commerce’s latest forecasts for the UK economy for Mr Sunak and his fellow Cabinet ministers to consider.
British Chambers forecasts a 4.5% decline in UK exports across 2023.
This could also come as a surprise to those taken in by the Brexit narrative, who might assume given all the posturing they have heard from the Conservative Government that the UK is either benefiting already or on the cusp of reaping rich rewards from some sort of trade boom. Like in the days of empire.
The reality, of course, is quite the opposite, with Brexit having weighed very heavily indeed on exporters.
British Chambers noted its research had shown “many smaller companies are not reporting any improvements in their trading conditions”.
The business organisation is forecasting the UK economy will not return to its pre-pandemic level of output until the final quarter of 2024.
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The Centre for Economics and Business Research recently highlighted the extent to which the UK was trailing France in this context.
It said: “GDP in France is estimated to have been 0.7% higher than pre-pandemic levels across 2022, marking the best performance on this measure amongst Western Europe’s five largest economies. For comparison, the UK economy was an estimated 0.4% smaller than its pre-pandemic size across 2022, meaning the gap between France and the UK on this measure stood at 1.1 percentage points.
“With France expected to see additional growth this year, and the UK set to contract, this divergence will widen further by the end of the year, reaching an estimated 3.0 percentage points.”
It is high time the Conservative Brexiters end their narrative of British superiority, face up to the reality of the situation, and mitigate the damage they have done.
Instead, they seem intent on distracting their supporters with their vilification of migrants crossing the English Channel.