Three key figures from the North-East – from left, Phil Wilson, the MP for Sedgefield, Beth Farhat, regional secretary of the TUC, and James Ramsbotham, chief executive of the North-East Chamber of Commerce – meet the Government today to talk about what the North-East needs from Brexit. Here they lay out their agenda
LATER today, we will be meeting Greg Clark, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in Parliament to discuss what Brexit means for the North-East.
The meeting was arranged by Phil Wilson MP after he raised concerns around the future of foreign direct investment in the region post-Brexit, during a debate in the House of Commons.
Our meeting provides us with the opportunity to promote the interests of the North-East, which is a great place to do business, work and live. We want to put the case for the region from both sides of industry.
Since the British people’s vote to leave the EU on June 23, 2016, there has been uncertainty about what Brexit will look like when it finally arrives, especially around future investment, trade, industrial strategy and employment rights.
Fifty-eight per cent of the North-East’s trade is with the EU, well above the national average. More than 100,000 people in the region are employed in industries which rely on trade with the continent.
The announcement by Nissan in October that it would continue investing in its Sunderland plant was very welcome. However, in more recent announcements Nissan has said that costs could rise significantly if a trade deal is not in place with the EU at the end of negotiations. Nissan has also said the company may have to “adjust” its British business as a consequence. The company employs 7,000 workers in the North-East with an estimated 30,000 jobs in the supply chain.
Likewise, Hitachi has said its ability to export trains from its factory in Newton Aycliffe, which employs 950 people, will be made more difficult after 2019 if the right deal is not made with the EU.
For the benefit of the UK, as well as the North-East, we need to see the right agreement in place after the end of trade negotiations. This we believe means keeping unimpeded, tariff-free access to the single market with transitional arrangements where necessary.
We would also ask the Government to publish any assessments it has made on the impact of leaving the EU on a sector by sector and regional economy basis. If impact assessments do not exist, we urge that they should be compiled and published so businesses and the North-East can prepare for a future outside the EU.
We welcome the Government’s publication of an industrial strategy green paper. For business to thrive in the North-East, we ask the Government to look at an industrial strategy which involves a role for energy policy, especially support for energy intensive industries, and infrastructure investment including digital connectivity, to encourage competitiveness and attract business to the North-East. This will help the region to compete and be more resilient in a global marketplace.
Hundreds of thousands of employees in the North-East are covered by employment rights which are based on EU law. Much of this legislation is taken for granted, such as on maternity pay and paid holiday. The Prime Minister has said existing EU employment rights will be converted into domestic law. This is welcome, but we urge the Government to ensure such law does not fall below the EU standards the UK has enjoyed in the past.
Immigration was a legitimate issue during the referendum campaign. Only 1.7 per cent of the UK’s foreign-born population lives in the North-East. Of the top ten non-UK countries of birth in the region, only three are from the EU.
Foreign students contribute significantly to the regional economy. Our universities are amongst the best in the country. Higher education is a major export and foreign students help improve the education experience for domestic students. On graduation, they also help ensure the region’s workforce holds the talent businesses need. We would therefore urge the Government to remove foreign students from any proposed immigration limits.
There are many other issues, but we believe these to be some of the most important. Our main ask of the Government is to engage in a dialogue with the North-East, its businesses, trade unions, local authorities and other agencies, as we approach Brexit.
When the British people voted to leave the EU in 2016, how to leave was not on the ballot paper. The North-East, because of our reliance on trade with the EU, should be one of the central concerns of the Government’s strategy towards Brexit negotiations.
We therefore call on the Government to provide support to businesses in preparation for any change, including additional resources to relevant departments. We would like to see the dialogue we are starting today be continued in other arenas which involves Government ministers meeting representatives from across the region.
The North-East, where we live and work, is a proud region of the United Kingdom, with a strong industrial heritage. We need to be confident we are being listened to and our views heard.
We look forward to our meeting and an on-going dialogue with the Government.