A no-deal Brexit will be “commercial suicide” with tens of thousands of jobs already lost in the UK because of the political uncertainty, manufacturing representatives have said.
As Boris Johnson broke cover to launch his Conservative party leadership campaign, in which he repeated his pledge to leave the EU by 31 October, industry representatives were telling MPs that crashing out of the bloc was “economic vandalism”.
Seamus Nevin, the chief economist with Make UK which represents some of the country’s largest manufacturers, said: “There is a direct link between politicians talking up the prospect of no deal and British firms losing customers overseas and British people losing jobs.
“A no-deal Brexit would be nothing short of commercial suicide.”
He told the House of Commons Brexit select committee that some businesses were already “downsizing or completely shutting down in the UK”. Some were very profitable and leaders in their sector, but were struggling because of the political uncertainty.
Nevin said he was aware of one company, which he could not name because of a confidentiality agreement, that was planning to quit Britain. “That will result in several thousand job losses,” he said adding that a no-deal Brexit “would be nothing short of an act of economic vandalism” and “undo 25 years of economic progress and consign a generation of highly skilled workers to the scrapheap.”
His assessment came as stark contrast to Johnson’s upbeat declaration that he would deliver Brexit and transform the UK into a powerhouse that would “go neck and neck with Germany” in manufacturing and technology.
Johnson declared he would “stick up for every business in this country” but, in a mixed message, also declared he was not aiming for no deal but was prepared to leave the EU without a deal. “I think if we block it, we will face mortal retribution from the electorate,” he said.
Businesses told MPs that a Halloween Brexit would be a disaster.
Tim Rycroft, the chief operating officer with the Food and Drink Federation, said shortages of food would begin to appear within two weeks of a no-deal Brexit.
Fresh fruit and vegetables would be held up on the Calais-Dover journey because of mandatory food health checks, but so too would processed chicken originating in the UK, he said. “We produce a lot of chicken but they are sent to [the] EU for processing and then re-imported.”
Rycroft said other foodstuffs that would be affected would be bread and confectionary as the UK does not produce enough dried milk or high protein wheat. He said: “We will see selective shortages and probably unpredictably and that might go on for several weeks and potentially months after a no-deal exit.” he said.
Nevin also challenged claims that the port of Calais would be able to deliver a frictionless Brexit in the event of a crash out.
He told MPs the port had done a trial of sanitary and phytosanitary tests that would be mandatory on the EU side and this had led to delays of 25km.
The Democratic Unionist party MP for east Antrim, Sammy Wilson, put it to him that the port of Calais had said it would be ready for no deal.
Wilson asked Nevin: “So the assurances given by the mayor of Calais are not true?” “That’s correct,” Nevin replied.