Auto industry making its voice heard over Brexit
At the moment, there seems to be only three main subjects being covered by the UK media; Caribbean hurricanes, whether Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un will plunge us into a nuclear war and, of course, Brexit. Of the three, the one which will run for longest - at least I hope so - is Brexit. The French have a saying describing a conversation which is going nowhere, un dialogue de sourds (a dialogue of the deaf) and that, I feel, is exactly what we are witnessing at the moment.
Amidst all the current palaver in Brussels, the future of the Ireland/UK border seems to be much more debated than the future of the UK automotive industry. As an Irishman, I can’t help having a giggle at the idea of sealing a border which is one of the most porous in the world and which runs down the middle of the main street of a town in County Fermanagh. For me, the more important issue by far is the fate of the auto industry.
Up until last week, the OEMs with manufacturing plants in the UK had been very reluctant to air their views on Brexit. Then, suddenly, they virtually all piped up, led by JLR’s boss, Ralf Speth, who is rumoured to have had a hot and heavy meeting with Prime Minister May, and followed with almost indecent haste by most of the others.
Quite simply, and understandably, they want to know what is likely to happen over post-Brexit customs arrangements, which could come into effect as early as March 2019. You cannot expect huge corporations to suddenly change all their systems and processes and employ who knows how many extra customs people at the drop of a hat.
At the recent Frankfurt Motor Show, a top executive at Toyota, which a few months ago invested £240m in its Derbyshire plant after assurances about no change in tariffs, said the government was 'not any more' giving those assurances. Indeed, Mrs. May in some of her recent pronouncements was seemingly veering more and more towards a so-called ‘hard Brexit’ with all the deleterious effects that represents for the automotive industry in this country.
Whatever the decisions on the UK’s membership of the internal market may be, the automotive industry needs to know sooner rather than later what to expect. The issue of the Irish border will take care of itself as it always has done. The future of one of our leading industries is much more important.
Simon Duval Smith
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