Today marks two years since Brexit happened and while we wish it hadn’t, we at Best for Britain did all we could to make a strong and impassioned case for remaining in the European Union. In the spirit of pragmatism though, rather than letting Brexit defeat us, we instead turned our attention to the threadbare deal that Johnson signed - the Trade and Cooperation Agreement. Hastily negotiated and with insufficient consultation with British businesses, we knew it would need improvement.
We wanted to build something that was serious, forward looking and focused upon ensuring that the many holes Brexit has left were exposed so that the Government had to listen and make good on implementing changes. As a result, the UK Trade and Business Commission was born.
The Commission brings together industry leaders and MPs from every party in Westminster, plus trade experts, to scrutinise the deal, take evidence, and make rapid recommendations to the Government on improving it. It is convened by Hilary Benn MP and Peter Norris of Virgin Group and Best for Britain acts as secretariat, to help the Commissioners with their work.
As well as scrutinising the Brexit deal, Commissioners also interrogate new trade deals, like the ones with Australia and New Zealand. Over the last year, we’ve heard from farmers, fisherman, medics, hauliers, gin distillers, ambassadors and bankers, to name just a few!
Each session has been broadcast live for the world to watch, and not only have our recommendations been covered extensively in the media, our Commissioners have also been invited to share their findings with Government ministers. Their work is making a difference.
The UK Trade and Business Commission met last week for its first meeting of 2022, exploring how UK manufacturing can be protected in a global supply chain.
Over the past year, the UK Trade and Business Commission has held seventeen live evidence sessions, and has heard from over 90 witnesses across 2000 minutes of live broadcast. Yesterday’s session added to what’s been a mammoth effort in gathering evidence around the issues affecting UK businesses.
With witnesses from Strathclyde to the South East, last week’s session gave Commissioners the opportunity to hear some of the challenges facing the manufacturing industry from across all corners of the country.
What did manufacturing leaders have to say?
As usual, this meeting was full of detail and technical discussion, so here’s a distillation:
Witnesses said that the UK Government needs to look at the work that the manufacturing sector is doing more broadly, in order to be able to realise its full potential. With Brexit exposing issues around the precarious supply chains with which the UK operates; with the UK becoming a far less attractive destination for the best and brightest; and with challenges for businesses across the UK in exporting there are many challenges that Brexit has created. Manufacturers told us they want to see an actual Government strategy for the manufacturing industry, with proper funding behind it.
We heard powerful evidence around the difficulties that manufacturing SMEs are currently facing. This is a theme that recurs throughout Commission sessions. Small businesses have been hit hard by the combined effects of Brexit, inflationary pressures and the pandemic. Many SMEs in the manufacturing sphere feel stuck in endless cycles of chasing funding, receiving it and then being forced to go after more funding again. Witnesses told us about what they see as a disconnect in the range of support offered by the Government - with financial assistance rarely being accompanied by practical advice.
Witnesses expressed frustration with funding initiatives being restricted to certain regions, and they felt this undermined national support for the manufacturing sector more broadly.
We heard about the importance of ‘place’ in industry, and how the manufacturing sector in particular creates a real sense of local identity for people working within it. Industry leaders pointed to the way the manufacturing sector's investment in skills, and research and development adds a significant amount to local prosperity. They asked whether the Government intended to consider that when it looks to the sector’s future.
What’s next for the Commission?
Coming up, we have a session on the newly implemented import checks, with witnesses evaluating the impact of customs controls on British trade that came into force on 1 January. Many small businesses across the country are struggling as it is to both import from and export to Europe, and these changes will only make it more difficult.
We also have a forthcoming session on the cost of living crisis, arguably one of the biggest issues facing the country right now, which will take place in March. With soaring energy bills, sky high inflation and no European Union to fall back on for support; we’re very much tackling these problems in isolation - and this creates serious and significant issues for the UK. As part of this session, we will look at how Downing Street, wrapped up in its own dramas, can develop meaningful policy that can go some way towards tackling this seismic issue.
Information about the Commission
The UK Trade and Business Commission is an unincorporated association which brings together business leaders and parliamentarians to work together in the national interest, by assessing the impact of international trade deals on UK businesses and consumers. It is co-convened by Hilary Benn MP and Peter Norris of the Virgin Group and has representation from every political party in Westminster.
The following witnesses gave evidence at last week’s session:
- Professor Jillian MacBryde, Professor of Innovation and Operations Management at Strathclyde University
- Dr Carmen Torres-Sánchez, Reader in Multifunctional Materials Manufacturing, Executive Director, Centre for Doctoral Training in Embedded Intelligence
- Simon Collingwood, Head of External Affairs and Communications, Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, University of Sheffield
- Tim Ward, Principle Consultant, Trade in Goods/Rules of Origin
- Jack Semple, Manufacturing Technologies Association
- Richard Rumbelow, Director, International Trade & Member Relations, MakeUK