If this weekend’s media is correct - the Prime Minister intends to ‘trigger’ Article 50 this coming week - giving notice to quit the European Union. The phony war may just be over, and the consequences of a hard brexit will stare the country and especially the Brextremists in the face.
The signs of the uncertainty Unite is encountering in the manufacturing and construction sector are appearing.
The fact that the economy is floating on a bed of unsustainable household credit has masked the uncertainty we have been seeing - at its most visible in our automotive sector, with recent statements by Nissan, BMW, Ford, and GM sounding the warning bells.
As the Budget unravelled over increased national insurance contributions for the self employed (and the PM kicked a final decision into the long grass), the Office For National Statistics announced that the UK’s industrial sector shrank in January, bringing the country’s annual growth rate sharply down after it hit a six-year high at the end of 2016.
High-street sales also dropped to their lowest February figure since 2009, and the ONS reported that a 1.8% increase in construction output in December turned into a 0.4% decline in January, though the fall was expected.
Chris Williamson, chief economist of the reliable financial data firm Markit, said: “The sluggish growth indicated by the surveys and official data at the start of 2017 suggest that the economy is growing at only a modest pace in the first quarter, and looks susceptible to further weakening in coming months”.
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The problem is compounded by the Government refusal to heed warnings from manufacturers and Unite on their failure to confirm that continuing membership of a tariff free single market and membership of the Customs Union (maintaining a frictionless supply chain) are paramount.
They have failed to develop a convincing industrial strategy to protect us from the buffeting the Brexit headwinds manufacturing will face.
They have also failed to pump sufficient funds into preparing for the coming digital revolution. Chancellor Hammond announced a meagre £270 million to help develop research and skills in robotics, bio-science, electric vehicles, battery technology – a figure, which Hammond claimed, would put the UK at the ‘forefront’ of the digital revolution. Sorry, it won’t!
Compare it with President Obama’s commitment $6 billion over ten years just into developing electric vehicles.
Its going to take much more than Boris Johnson telling the PM not to pay any heed (or cash) to the EU, Michael Gove talking up the chances of minor trade deals and the PM telling the EU she will turn the UK into a ‘pound shop Britain’ is she doesn’t get her way.
For workers in with decent jobs in manufacturing - and for their companies - uncertainty and posturing is not the way to do business.