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The insanity of a no deal Brexit

Bombardier-Boeing debacle is surely evidence enough, says Len McCluskey
Len McCluskey, Unite general secretary, Friday, October 20th, 2017


Gavin Robinson, the DUP MP for East Belfast, didn’t go as far as was trailed by his local media when he asked in parliament whether business secretary Greg Clark had made any approach on the Bombardier crisis.

 

His intervention asked for a ministerial statement on the spiralling situation, which we’re still waiting for. But his pledge to tell the government it needed to “step up to the plate” didn’t materialise.

 

The DUP can do so much more than make polite parliamentary points of order. It’s time its MPs proved they are worth every penny of the £1bn Theresa May shook from that mysterious magic money tree in order to cling to power.

 

They need to work with Unite to fight for and save the jobs of Bombardier’s 4,500 Northern Ireland workers, and the thousands more working in the firm’s supply chains.

 

Mr Robinson telling the press that the government must “up the ante” isn’t bold. But a public reminder to ministers that their ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement means his DUP colleagues can, and will, remove the props holding that government in its unsteady place would be.

 

The £1bn extra funding for Northern Ireland over two years will be used, according to DUP leader Arlene Foster, to boost the economy and invest in new infrastructure, among other measures.

 

Unite is the biggest union in Northern Ireland and I welcomed this investment for our members in one of our poorest regions, although I believe it should be found for all our nations and regions.

 

Many of our members there supported the DUP at the general election. But they did not vote to prop up a government that fails to defend their jobs and stand up to the corporate bullying of Boeing.

 

Destroyed

Westminster’s austerity has destroyed Northern Ireland’s economy, with workplaces decimated and thousands of manufacturing and other jobs lost. There was no £1bn additional money when Michelin, Gallaher and Bombardier were shutting sites and shifting work elsewhere two years ago.

 

Supporting Unite in our campaign to protect our members’ jobs would be unequivocal evidence that the DUP will put that money where its mouth is. If anyone can raise the stakes and speak for Bombardier workers now, it is they.

 

Because “I don’t know” is on the lips of so many of the firm’s workers whose jobs are threatened by this escalating transatlantic trade dispute.

 

They don’t know how their families and their communities can support themselves without an economy with a manufacturing base.

 

As one Unite member said at last week’s lobby of parliament: “If those jobs were lost, it would be beyond devastating for our community – it would be catastrophic.”

 

Justin Trudeau has reportedly told Donald Trump that he will block Canadian air force purchases of Boeing aircraft if the US imposes 300 per cent import tariffs on Bombardier planes. We still don’t know what Theresa May has said to Trump, but it’s clear that pleading with him to lift the tariffs will achieve nothing.

 

And what prospects for her government even contemplating sanctions on Boeing, when the transport secretary Chris Grayling refused to so much as engage with his shadow, Andy McDonald, about the role of the company in the financial engineering of Monarch during the parliamentary debate on the collapsed airline?

 

Asked why the government had made no criticism of Boeing’s role in the loss of 2,000 jobs in Luton, Grayling could only boast of the operation to bring home Monarch’s stranded customers, as if he’d been part of an heroic effort to rescue them from a terrible natural disaster. And to attack McDonald and others linking Brexit to the troubles of the aviation sector for “talking down” Britain.

 

If Grayling had provided support for Monarch, as the German government did with Air Berlin and the Italian with Alitalia, at least to avoid sudden administration, he would have earned our members’ support.

 

Evidence 

But surely the Bombardier-Boeing debacle stands as evidence of the insanity of a no deal Brexit? It shows up the asymmetrical trade relationship with the US, as does the crushing setback for the government in one of the only areas it is has seen progress in during the EU negotiations: that of post-Brexit agricultural tariffs.

 

The agreement, which would have seen the EU’s WTO quotas for international agricultural products reduced, with Britain taking a share of them after Brexit, was swiftly rebuffed by the US, along with a number of non-EU countries including New Zealand, and, ironically, Canada. It’s a painful setback for the UK’s ambitions to achieve favourable trade deals with the Trump administration and commonwealth countries.

 

Monarch’s collapse too, for all Grayling’s denials that Brexit was a factor, was at least in part due to other carriers, initially interested, being unwilling to bid for it amid deep uncertainty over the future of the Open Skies agreement. It’s a volatile sector at the best of times and, Monarch’s tangled funding arrangements aside, the weak pound pushing up fuel prices was another nail in the coffin.

 

With deadlock in the Brexit negotiations, the predatory behaviour of Boeing and a protectionist ‘America First’, a failure by the government and its DUP allies to actively defend UK manufacturing jobs, even by demonstrating a preparedness to ditch a trade deal with the US altogether, will signal that any ambition ministers have for a coherent industrial strategy is effectively in tatters.

 

But we know there never was a coherent industrial strategy. And we don’t need to look over this precipice. There’s a government in waiting, one with a vision for the UK and the values needed to stand up to bullies, to protect our members’ jobs and deliver a Brexit that works for everyone.

 

As Jeremy Corbyn said, if Theresa May can’t lead, she should leave.

 

This comment first appeared in Tribune, October 19

 

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