Manufacturing in Britain has been through multiple periods of turmoil in its relatively recent history. Having kick-started the industrial revolution which transformed Britain into an economic powerhouse, it has fought ever since to reclaim its crown. Britain now sits as the sixth largest global economy. It is largely propped upon a burgeoning services industry, rather than the manufacturers of old. Economic adversity during the 1970s decimated the mining and shipbuilding industries. Meanwhile others such as steelworks continue to limp to this day. Perhaps only recently has British manufacturing enjoyed a period of recovery. This once again could be jeopardised if the Brexit succeeds.
It is well worth noting at this point that approximately 50% of UK exports are sent to European Union markets. Is this a by-product of the free trade partnership enshrined in EU law? Or a relative coincidence due to the geographical location of Britain? Leave campaigners have championed the idea that breaking from the EU will mean the end of ‘red tape’ regulations. These have supposedly been holding back British businesses. While this sounds excellent on paper, it does beg a certain question. Assuming Britain were to negotiate a new trade agreement with Europe, would British manufacturers still have to abide by these considering the nations they are trading with would remain a part of the EU?
Should we stay or go?
The crux of the idea for the Leave campaign, is that by voting to leave, Britain would be freeing itself from the metaphorically limping horse of the EU. Thereby enabling it to establish new trade agreements with the emerging markets of the world including Brazil and India. If it had hoped for a free trade partnership with the US, then that was recently quashed in America. This then raises the question as to why Britain cannot pursue this kind of deal within the EU. Is sacrificing a mutually beneficial agreement with Europe is worth the risk? This is especially prevalent considering that agreements with the likes of Brazil are not as glowing as they once were, with news that their economy is hardly prospering either.
The argument for remaining in the European Union is quite clear. Staying in avoids the risk of breaking the partnerships that have taken years to develop. To work as part of the union to reform and improve it. Either way that you look at it, both sides of the argument appear idealistic. But the manufacturing industry has fallen victim in the past for idealism. It was the delusion that Britain remained an industrial powerhouse that led to its mismanagement and downfall 40 years ago. As the green shoots of recovery have quietly emerged, it would be a serious gamble to risk what has been a very slow and fragile recovery.
What about our jobs?
While the Conservative Party has been relatively split on the issue, the Labour Party came out and stated that 50,000 manufacturing jobs could be lost in the event of the Brexit . The fact that two-thirds of British jobs hinge on demand from European markets, makes leaving a dangerous game to play. While a new free trade partnership is likely, the terms of this are far from set in stone. Knowing that Britain will become the example from which others may follow, it is hardly in the EU’s interests to negotiate a beneficial deal for Britain and show that leaving is a viable and potentially more lucrative option.
It would be fair to conclude that the outcome for British manufacturing in the event of the Brexit happening is shrouded in the uncertainty which has plagued the whole campaign. For manufacturer’s themselves, the risk really does not seem to justify the reward. While leaving reportedly opens an avenue to export further afield, it risks jeopardising the established supply lines of British manufacturers. Considering the relative stability and growth experienced within the industry in recent years and the turmoil that it experienced in the decades before that, the wide general opinion of British manufacturers has shown a preference for remaining within the European Union.