Since the UK left the European Union in January, Labour has been pushing for the Tory government in parliament to deliver the ‘oven-ready’ deal that was promised a year ago and specifically at the general election.
Leaving the EU was only one part of that deal – the starter course. The main course is delivering a future relationship set out in the political declaration by the UK and EU with “no tariffs, fees, charges or quantitative restrictions across all sectors”, that will safeguard “workers’ rights, consumer and environmental protection”, and ensure the protection of the Good Friday Agreement through proper implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol. The Tories must honour these commitments in the final phase of negotiations.
This is an incredibly important time for the UK’s industries and all the people who work in them as we battle the fallout of Covid-19 and the Tory government’s mishandling of the crisis. Sadly, for many sectors of the UK economy, the government’s approach to negotiations with the EU only adds to the current challenges.
There is less than three months until the end of the transition period with the EU. The Tory government is telling businesses to “get ready”, yet still can’t point to what we will all be transitioning to. While Labour still expects the government to reach an agreement with the EU, every week that goes by without it makes it that bit harder for firms to prepare.
There are growing numbers of business organisations pointing out that the Tories are falling short of what our industries need, regardless of whether an agreement with the EU is reached. These trade bodies have no political axe to grind but simply want to safeguard the livelihoods of those running businesses in their sector. They make up the backbone of Britain and are vital to our everyday economy.
It is extraordinary to see government ministers criticise respected trade organisations like the Road Haulage Association for speaking up for their members, when they should be sitting down with them to listen and address their concerns. They are experts in their industry and are not alone with perfectly reasonable requests. Most sectors need detail and solutions, not just political slogans or adverts autographed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The Food and Drink Federation is concerned about the lack of clarity on labelling for their products, with real concerns that this will harm their exports. They say “the food industry has already practically run out of time to process the necessary label changes… These label changes are complex, and clarity from the government is urgently required in order for industry to be able to create compliant food labels post-exit.” At best this will mean far greater business costs, at worst it could inhibit the ability of firms to export food and cost contracts and jobs. Meanwhile, organics farmers still don’t know for sure if they will be able to export to the EU or not from January 2020.
This week the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders spoke of heightened concern that the automotive industry could face real challenges, with rules of origin arrangements even in the event of a deal. We need the government to ensure a solution is negotiated that works for our highly integrated car industry. I am glad that Michael Gove agreed to my call for him to sit down with the car industry and trade unions Unite and GMB to urgently discuss these issues. The highly skilled, unionised jobs in the car manufacturing industry and supply chains play such an important role in many local economies and must be defended by the government.
Boris Johnson has claimed that leaving without a negotiated deal would be “a very good option” for the UK. This would be news to the Cabinet Office, whose leaked ‘reasonable worst case scenario’ assessment involves everything from shortages of petrol, energy, medicines to increased disruption and costs of essential items such as food. The need for a deal could not be clearer.
There will be a time when we aren’t discussing customs paperwork, pallets and permits but they matter to UK industries and jobs and so they should matter to the government. The country wants its politicians to focus on tackling Covid-19 and its consequences for our country but without achieving the deal they promised, Tory incompetence will harm jobs, our industries and hold back our recovery.
Following the ninth round of scheduled talks, it’s vital that the Tory government and the EU intensify efforts to deliver the oven-ready deal that was promised. Labour will continue to work with businesses and trade unions to press for what our economy and country needs during these negotiations and into the future.
Rachel Reeves will be discussing Labour’s Brexit policy at noon on Tuesday, October 6th, in an event by LabourList and UK in a Changing Europe with Stephen Bush, Anand Menon and Sienna Rodgers. Click here to register for the event.