Smart Machines & Factories
A ‘real world’ solution?
Published:  23 March, 2018

Jeremy Corbyn’s acceptance recently of the need for a post-Brexit customs union reflects what UK manufacturing have long called for. Stephen Phipson CEO of EEF says manufacturers have been vocal about the complexity of the supply chains between the EU and UK in which they operate, and that free and frictionless trade can only be achieved by comparable customs rules to those that the UK currently enjoys.

A comprehensive customs union is a ‘real world’ solution that has been called for by thousands of trading businesses of all sizes and sectors across the UK.

Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI Director-General, said recently that the Labour leader’s commitment to a customs union will put jobs and living standards first by remaining in a close economic relationship with the EU.” Although I am not the greatest supporter of Corbyn, it is hard for me to disagree with his stance on the issue as it will allow the UK to uphold the referendum result by helping to grow trade without accepting freedom of movement or payments to the EU. Although I make no secret that I would have preferred not to be leaving the EU in the first place and my belief in the need for freedom of movement, which benefits the UK tremendously, I also accept the present political reality. A comprehensive customs union however could be the ‘real world’ solution we are looking for to begin to move forward. Fairbairn makes the point that growing trade is not an ‘either or’ question – Germany already exports five times as much with China as the UK from within the customs union. Many thousands of ambitious UK firms are looking to break into new markets. These companies need Government to focus on making access to markets simpler, not putting up barriers to our most important trading partner.

Importantly, a customs union will go part of the way to providing a solution to the Irish border question that is of such urgent concern to the people and firms of Northern Ireland. As Fairbairn emphasises, this evidence cannot be ignored. To do so would create barriers where there are none, risking prosperity and future living standards.

It remains unclear exactly how Labour could practically achieve its rhetoric and maintain a close relationship with the Single Market and EU agencies, and have a say in future trade deals, but solutions are possible. What is lacking however, is political courage and statesmanship above party politics, to do what is in the best interests of the UK economy and prosperity of its people. Interesting times lie ahead for us all.

On a final note, if you are visiting this year’s Smart Industry Expo at the NEC, Birmingham, between the 10-12th April, please also visit The Knowledge Hub where there will be a free programme of seminars and panel discussions, with speakers offering expert insight and practical advice on the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The Knowledge Hub’s theme for 2018 is Smart Factory - Concept to Reality, the journey to a smart future. I hope to see you there.