Workers and Brexit: From Construction Sites to Car Plants

During the referendum campaign of 2016 George Osborne tried his best to scare many British workers. Despite many of them feeling the effects of uncontrolled and British power being gift wrapped to Brussels in the form of restricting government intervention, Osborne’s Project Fear claimed that as a consequence of a vote to leave the European Union up to 800,000 workers would lose their jobs.

Three years on and we learn that nothing can be further from the truth. The current government is celebrating that unemployment is at its lowest point since 1975. On the eve of the vote just under 5% of British people were unemployed, however, now it is 3.8%. Wages were also supposed to be fall, but the Office of National Statistics shows that real wages are at their highest since March 2011. Part of this is because many EU citizens have left the UK. However, Project Fear also claimed that these jobs would not be filled by Britons. In fact, in April the government announced that over 90% of these new vacancies have been filled by British workers. This should give us hope that once Freedom of Movement has been suspended and an Australian-style points-based system is introduced we can re-energise the British workforce and give greater opportunity to the millions of people, especially young people.

Uncontrolled immigration had a major effect on construction sites across the United Kingdom, with average wages falling as EU migrants were undercutting their wages. Since that monumental vote in 2016 and net migration figures have begun to fall wages have increased. Research carried out by Recruiters Randstrad highlight that in 2018 the average annual wage in construction rose by £3,600 from the previous year. Much of this is because there is not as much damage through cheap, alternative labour. During the referendum campaign Project Fear told the British people that Freedom of Movement had no effect on the wages and livelihoods of ordinary Britons. This is clearly fanciful. Once we leave the European Union the uncontrollable undercutting of wages will end once and for all and an Australian-style system will enable us to never fall short in industries that need additional employees.

The car industry has been hijacked by Remainers as an example of how Brexit has failed the workers. When listening to many British news outlets it may seem that it is only the United Kingdom that is suffering with car plants closing. It may come as a surprise that little over a week ago the Guardian announced that Ford has decided to axe 12,000 jobs across the continent. But what is the reason for this? Perhaps because of limited profit margins that saw the closure of a Ford plant in France and Nissan’s decision to remove the X Trail from Sunderland as their European sales had halved in 2017. However, China has for the first time in two decades seen a fall in buying cars. This has had a major impact because this ever-expanding market has not been able to remove the pressures of European failures by balancing the books. The last, and possibly most important issue is diesel. This is solely based on supply and demand economics. When Tony Blair and Gordon Brown encouraged people to buy diesel in 2001 through financial incentives, we couldn’t foresee that by 2019 we would have had the VW scandal and climate change would rise to the forefront of international politics. This dissuades consumers from buying diesel. The move to electric has proved somewhat problematic. Especially with Jaguar Land Rover cars being predominantly producing diesel. If anything, the EU has damaged the British car industry. In 2012, the EU actively damaged British car manufacturing by encouraging a plant to be transferred to Slovakia. And by being outside of this protectionist bloc we will have access to more and cheaper car parts. There is a bright side. Last month it was announced that Ford would close its Bridgend plant, at the cost of 1,700 jobs. The chair of Ford Europe, Stuart Rowley announced this had ‘nothing to do with Brexit’. But when Aston Martin went on to say that they would be creating jobs for almost 3,000 people in St Athan, just a quarter of an hour away from Bridgend, it has given fresh light to the British worker. Evidently Britain can be an attractive market for car makers, and with serious changes happening to the industry we could try and push ourselves to the forefront of this with the green economy that many people are crying out for.

Aircraft has also been targeted by James O’Brien and other Remainers who use Airbus as their prime example. O’Brien’s LBC show can be seen as a few hours of belittling Brexiteers, so it must be terrible for the man who has a book called ‘How to be Right’ to be so wrong. He must look back on that call from Steve in Gloucester in disbelief when he persistently stated that Airbus were all but certain to leave Britain. They must have been enraged when the recently appointed CEO, Guillame Fuary, went against the words of his predecessor to say that Airbus would stay in the United Kingdom regardless of the outcome of Brexit. This is because Britain would be a part of a global market, outside of the protectionist EU trading bloc and a WTO Brexit would keep zero import duties on all non-military aircraft, including its parts and components. This is because Britain is one of 32 signatories to the WTO Agreement on Civil Aircraft.

The last industry of interest is steel. In 2016, the British steel industry was in crisis. In January of that year, just months before the referendum, over 1,000 jobs had been announced to be scrapped. There were too main reasons for this: tariffs and EU directives. The Brexit Party recently announced a more interventionist vision of how to deal with this crisis, and this is only possible once we have left the EU. Many of these communities voted to Leave in 2016 including Port Talbot and Scunthorpe. Prior to the referendum North Lincolnshire County Council and the then Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, confirmed that state aid was impossible whilst members of the EU. However, by leaving the EU we can insure that the British people have the electoral power to save these failing industries if they want to. By being an independent nation, we will also get more control over our tariffs. Unlike the EU that had 20% tariff rate on Chinese steel, the US imposed 236% in 2016. Once we are outside of the EU we have the opportunity to place tariffs that benefit Britain. This may be none at all, or a hefty tariff. But the tax making power returns to the people of the United Kingdom.

Once we leave the European Union, hopefully on the 31st of October, the British people will be able to control their own destiny. The wages should continue to improve as the current construction site wages show a clear correlation between immigration and pay. I hope to have also dispelled the myth that many of the recent downfalls in car manufacturing have much to do with Brexit at all. The real message of this blog post is a simple principle. I have not expressed my own personal view on whether we should use state intervention to save the steel works, nor have I expressed a desire to reintroduce protectionist economics to Britain. But by taking back control of huge amounts of political power from Brussels, and returning it to the British people, it will be the British people, and only the British people, who will be the masters of our own destiny.

By J Walters

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