Belfast Telegraph

Manufacturers urge government to hold nerve on single market access

By Alan Jones and Margaret Canning

The Government is being encouraged not to rush through a "clumsy" Brexit plan amid calls for manufacturers to retain access to the single market.

Protecting industry will be "critical" in the negotiations to leave the EU and firms must continue to be able to employ workers from other European countries, said the Engineering Employers' Federation (EEF).

A survey of 2,000 members of the public by the manufacturers' group found that only 5% believed that damaging the sector was a price worth paying for leaving the EU.

It comes after Northern Ireland's leading manufacturing group warned that a lack of a clear post-Brexit plan was holding up investment decisions.

Yesterday, the EEF urged ministers to "hold their nerve" and work out a plan to help manufacturing companies cope with life outside the EU.

There could be opportunities to trade with other countries post-Brexit, said the EEF.

Chief executive Terry Scuoler said: "Rushing through a clumsy Brexit is not in the interests of our sector or the wider UK economy.

"The Prime Minister is right to hold her nerve and allow adequate time for the UK's negotiation strategy to be developed in close consultation with business to ensure the UK's long-term economic interests are not harmed.

"Manufacturers see great opportunity for jobs, growth and wealth generation from the expansion of global trade outside of the EU. The negotiations will inevitably require compromise, but manufacturing has a key role to play in the success of post-Brexit Britain.

"I would urge the Prime Minister to ensure that any new relationship works for our sector. This means maintaining unrestricted access to the single market and ensuring companies have the ability to hire and post employees across the EU - albeit with more controls in place."

Rob Elvin, of law firm Squire Patton Boggs, which helped with the report, added: "While our ability to trade freely with Europe is naturally of immediate concern to UK manufacturers, Brexit has provided an opportunity to create a longer term vision for international trade."

Stephen Kelly of Manufacturing NI said the future for Northern Ireland's manufacturers remains unclear, three months on from the vote to leave.

And he urged government to inject confidence in the sector.

"For many, investments are on hold until there is clarity on what future trading relationships and wider economic conditions will be," he said.

"This impacts on GDP, but more critically, every day a manufacturer holds off investing in plant and machinery is a day closer to being uncompetitive, or indeed to closure.

"A stimulus is required - some tools to provide confidence and begin spending."

Manufacturers have received a boost from the lower sterling following Brexit. The Markit/CIPS Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) for August jumped to a 10-month high of 53.3, after hitting a three-year low in July.

And in the Ulster Bank PMI for August, manufacturing recorded the fastest rate of growth in output and new orders.

But its chief economist Richard Ramsey described the weak sterling as "double-edged", leading to raised input costs.

Belfast Telegraph