When Brexit nonsense hits manufacturing reality

A Brexit manufacturing timeline.

May 2016

Professor Patrick Minford, of Economists for Brexit, says of manufacturing:

Over time, if we left the EU, it seems likely that we would mostly eliminate manufacturing, leaving mainly industries such as design, marketing and hi-tech. But this shouldn’t scare us.

Transitional arrangements should be made, lasting around 10 years, to help industries such as car manufacturing adjust.

June 2016

Mid-Derbyshire MP Pauline Latham, writing in the Derby Telegraph, explains why she wants to leave the EU:

At the weekend I made up my mind that Britain will be better off leaving the European Union. It is a decision that I have not arrived at easily, having been genuinely undecided since the referendum was announced.

Our manufacturing sector ranks number eight worldwide. The language we speak, English, is the international business language. Our judicial system is consistently rated as one of the least corrupt anywhere and our contract law is regarded across the world as the best for business. We have a long history of innovation, especially here in Derbyshire from even before the industrial revolution.

… Britain has a proud history and we want our children and grandchildren to enjoy the chances and opportunities we have had. I think this is possible outside of the EU and we should be confident that Britain can once again can stand by itself.

(This article has been removed since it was published, but fortunately I kept a copy).

March 2019

Johan van Zyl, head of Toyota’s European operations, speaking at the Geneva Motor Show to the BBC:

Mr van Zyl said it was vital that there was frictionless trade with the European Union.

He said Toyota would overcome any short-term problems at its Burnaston car plant near Derby, such as logistics, caused by leaving without a deal. But preparation for no-deal has been costly, he said, and in the long-term things could be “very difficult”.

Could work at Burnaston dry up after the current production cycle comes to an end? “The long-term effect could be that if it [Brexit] is very negative, that outcome is possible.”

Constantly improving competitiveness is vital, he said, adding: “But if the hurdles are becoming so high that you cannot achieve it then of course you can’t avoid it [hitting investment].”

Many people probably remember Minford’s comment about exiting the EU “mostly eliminating manufacturing”. It’s easier to forget that he was also arguing for a 10 year transition period prior to the referendum. One presumes he must be horrified by the negative consequences of a no-deal Brexit with no transition period. If so, he seems to be keeping very quiet about it.

As for my MP, Pauline Latham, she clearly forgot about a key reason why UK manufacturing was performing so well in 2016. The frictionless trade provided by the EU single market and customs union and required by Toyota to make sense of their investment here. Had that fact not slipped her mind, I’m sure she wouldn’t have advised her constituents to vote to leave. Surely? It wouldn’t have been rational, given the difficulty she found in making her decision.

We may be at the eleventh hour and 58th minute before Brexit, but if Latham is a genuine champion of manufacturing in Derby, she needs to take Minford’s advice. Rather than the no-deal desired by her ERG colleagues, she must vote for an extension to Article 50. That way, her government may stand an outside chance of obtaining Minford’s 10 year transition period.

Alternatively, she could recognise that she was poorly advised in June 2016 by the Brexiter elite. It would be the mark of a principled politician to acknowledge that, after all, EU membership provides the best chance of giving our children and grandchildren the opportunities we’ve enjoyed since 1973. Voting to revoke Article 50 would be a start to repairing the damage of the last two years.

The chickens are coming home to roost. Waiting for a disastrous Brexit.
The chickens are coming home to roost. Waiting for a disastrous Brexit.

Brexit stockpiling: I’ve got carrots and olives and I swear there’s no guns

Last week I was approached by Chris Doidge from BBC Radio Derby. He asked me if I wanted to be interviewed about my no-deal Brexit stockpiling plans. I agreed and we talked last Thursday. Unsurprisingly, the news surrounding the disastrous A52 redevelopment project meant that it wasn’t broadcast until yesterday morning. It’s available on BBC Sounds for around the next four weeks if you’d like to listen to what I said (1 hour 15 minutes in).

Faint praise for the interview included these gems from my daughters:

Listened expecting to cringe throughout but you don’t sound like you’ve totally lost touch with reality so congratulations.

So it’s a no to the underground bunker then?

The BBC later reported that Michael Gove had been warned – yet again – about the appalling consequences of a no-deal Brexit on food supplies. Then there’s also this – taken from the 31st January blog post of Riverford founder Guy Singh-Watson. I’m sure that no-one, whether they voted leave or remain, voted for food riots.

Riverford founder Guy Singh-Watson on the misery of planning for a no-deal Brexit
Riverford founder Guy Singh-Watson on the misery of planning for a no-deal Brexit and his concern over possible food riots.

I’d therefore argue that evidence from the experts suggests I continue to have a far more lucid grip on reality than that the Tory leader of Derbyshire County Council.

With Theresa May having disgracefully kicked the “meaningful” vote can down the road for at least a couple of weeks this afternoon, I’m going to continue stockpiling for the moment.

 

(*) Thank you to Jessica for providing the headline for this blog article – a very neat precis of what I said …

The Death of Grass: Brexit preppers

I’m annoyed (*) to report that I’ve now felt driven to start my own no deal Brexit stockpile. I don’t trust the government, nor at least two-thirds of Derby’s MPs (one Conservative, one Labour, both appalling), to act in our best interests. I hope that this post looks silly – really silly – very soon, but I’m too uncomfortable to do nothing before March 29th. Most people who answered my poll a couple of weeks ago – on Twitter and on Facebook – were thinking about stockpiling as well. There seems to be an increasing number of Brexit preppers around.

I’ve decided not to take my stockpiling to the extremes that some preppers have. I’m not stockpiling camping gas and bottled water for example. If the lights go out, the gas goes off and water supplies fail, then there’ll be rather more to worry about. It would take “Death of Grass” style preparations to properly address such a possibility. My brother isn’t a Yorkshire farmer with a stockade and machine gun, so I’m already at a disadvantage over the characters in John Christopher’s novel.

Back cover of "The death of grass" by John Christopher
This 1956 book obviously wasn’t written about Brexit, but … “The fearful national policies and immediate personal dangers which confront them are horrifying in their impact”

Instead, I’m targeting non-perishable and long shelf life goods, and aiming for 4-6 week’s supply by the time Brexit day arrives. I realise that I’m fortunate to be able to do this and others won’t be. If I’d been having my stem cell transplant around this time it wouldn’t have been possible.

My list currently has the following items on it. They’re mostly things I’d buy anyway (with a couple of exceptions), so I guess I could justify it as forward buying, but it’s not. I’d usually want to outsource stock rotation to the experts in the supermarket …

Non-perishables

  • Toilet paper, washing machine tablets, dishwasher tablets, razor blades, soap, other detergents and cleaners, deodorant, toothpaste, over the counter medicines

Tinned food

  • Fish: Tuna, crab (not a fish, obviously), sardines, salmon, mackerel, pilchards
  • Meat: Cured chicken (I’m hoping that this tastes better than it sounds), tinned meat and tinned pies
  • Vegetables: Potatoes, carrots, sweetcorn, peas, chopped tomatoes, red kidney beans (UK grown fresh vegetables are in short supply in April and May)
  • Fruit: Grapefruit segments, pineapple, apple, berries
  • Convenience: Baked beans, spaghetti hoops, soup

Jars and bottles

  • Olives, salmon, crab and beef paste, mustard, oils, ketchup, Worcester sauce, vinegar, anchovies, pickled beetroot, honey, passata

Dried food

  • Pasta, rice, porridge oats, sugar, tea, coffee, gravy granules, stock cubes, milk powder, cornflakes, weetabix, nuts

Garden seeds

  • Salad leaves, runner beans, broad beans, tomatoes etc.

Liquid sustenance

  • Long-life orange juice, diet cola, beer, wine

While a calamitous no deal Brexit remains a possibility I shall keep on adding to my stocks. Once it’s clear that particular threat has gone away (and I hope that it does), then I will donate any surplus I have to a local food bank.

If you still think this is all a little extreme, even confident Tory Brexiter MPs seem to be stockpiling in the name of “preparedness”. I guess the snowdrifts must be really something to behold in Berwick if they last throughout the summer.

(*) “Annoyed” is typical British understatement, but I try to keep the language on here to PG levels.

Open University student enrolments fall 44% since 2009/10

In the year that the Open University celebrates its 50th anniversary, the annual higher education student statistics release from HESA (*) paints a gloomy picture for lifelong learners. Overall part-time student enrolments continue to decline, but have been offset by older learners deciding to study full-time. This shift could be due to the unequal treatment of student loans for part and full-time students, but the data doesn’t exist to be certain.

The main part-time HE provider in the UK, the Open University, continues to see a year on year fall in enrolments. This decline dates back to 2010/11. Numbers have fallen by a massive 91,770 from the peak in 2009/10 –  approximately 44%. This year’s fall amounts to another 3,500 lost enrolments, resulting in a year on year decline of approximately 3%.

Open University student enrolments 2008/09 - 2017/18
Open University student enrolments 2008/09 – 2017/18

After a turbulent 2018 which saw vice-chancellor Peter Horrocks resign, the Open University enters its 50th anniversary year looking for a replacement.

As a proud OU alumnus, the continuing decline of what should be a thriving institution continues to enrage me. Poor decisions made under the last three governments (Labour, Coalition and Conservative-DUP) are the main cause of the decline.

As a Liberal Democrat, I wonder when Vince Cable’s commission on lifelong learning is going to report. Spring conference perhaps? Others have noticed this deafening silence too.

 

 

(*) HESA statistical releases are made under the creative commons attribution 4.0 international (CC BY 4.0) licence. The full release for 2017/18 (supported by interactive query tools) is available here.

Personal Brexit stockpiling

Are you stockpiling medicines, food or other items ahead of Brexit for personal use in the event of a catastrophe? Or do you have confidence in the government to make sure that life carries on as normal after March 29th? Votes and thoughts welcome – either on the twitter poll while it’s still open or in the comments below.

A hostage to fortune

I’m not necessarily known for the accuracy of my predictions. But having watched the coverage from Downing Street this morning while trying not to utter too many expletives, here’s my latest hostage to fortune.

I expect Theresa May to win the confidence vote tonight, with around 75-80 of her colleagues voting against her.

Not that it changes anything if she does win. It is all a self-indulgent side-show while the country burns – taking Derby with it. I hope that every member of the Conservative party is feeling a deep sense of shame.

The spectre of a “May’s Deal” or “No Deal” referendum

After this afternoon’s debacle in the Commons, I’m certain that the Prime Minister is trying to run the clock down towards March 29th 2019 so that MPs will have to eventually vote for her deal or risk crashing out of the EU with no deal at all. At the same time I think she’s trying to engineer a personal backstop of a new referendum, should her continuing attempts to blackmail MPs not work. However, I’m convinced that should a Theresa May inspired referendum happen, it would be of the ludicrously high-stakes “my deal or crash out with no deal” kind.

I don’t know how I’d vote in such a referendum. Actively voting for “no deal” is easy to rule out. I want politicians to stop wasting time on Europe, and focus on mending the rifts in our society, tackling poverty and promoting opportunity for all. I’d quite like my cancer drugs, food and power supplies to carry on uninterrupted next year. I want my 33+ years of pension savings to be worth something in retirement.

But to willingly vote for her xenophobic deal which ends free movement and reduces the life chances of everyone in the UK? I think – maybe – I’d prefer to spoil my ballot paper. I can’t decide at the moment if that would be the principled thing to do – or merely stupid. It’s a decision I never want to be forced to make.

A year ago (almost to the day) I wrote:

Kicking the can down the road
The Brexit can is still being kicked. We are all in it together. It’s about to go over the cliff edge with us to our collective doom.

Unless, of course, sane MPs on all sides of the house show some backbone and start to work together. They need either to cancel Brexit by withdrawing our article 50 notification, or ask the electorate to take that decision for them.

As we’re a parliamentary democracy, the first course of action should be the preferred one.

Brexit withdrawal agreement: I called it wrong

Last night I started to write a post arguing that the Tories would fall in behind the withdrawal agreement that Rabb and May had negotiated. I became too tired to finish it and didn’t hit publish. This morning, looking at the utter chaos the strong and stable May government is in, I’m rather glad that I didn’t.

I believed that the withdrawal agreement would get through the Commons, due to the flakiness demonstrated in the past by the pro-remain Tory “rebels”, the love of power in the rest of the party, combined with abstentions and pro-Brexit votes from the utter shambles that claims to be the official opposition.

I convinced myself that many of the Brexit ultras would fall in behind the Prime Minister. Once out of the EU – even if it was Brexit in name only – it would be easier for them to chip away at the agreement over time and get what they wanted than go through a no-deal exit. My justification for this reasoning were the reports that Michael Gove had backed the deal in cabinet. Compared to many of the other Brexiters in the Conservative party, he looks like a genius. When Gove does something like that, he’s usually playing out some kind of clever strategy. After all, a no-deal will so damage the country the Tories would be unlikely to see power again in a generation.

But what do I know? Nothing at all, by the looks of it. The green crayon brigade seem firmly in control of the fate of the Conservative party – and the country – this morning. If you weren’t preparing for a no-deal Brexit already, now is the time to start. (While continuing to argue for remaining in the EU, naturally.)

Green crayons
Green crayons as (probably) used by Brexit-supporting Conservative ministers when writing their resignation letters