CHEMICALS and manufacturing sector representatives have urged the UK government to carefully consider how it will establish a new trading relationship with the EU after the public voted to leave the bloc.
“It is not a decision that our sector wanted,” said Steve Elliott, CEO of the Chemicals Industry Association (CIA). “We now have to look to the future and I’m confident that an important and resilient industry such as ours can prosper in this new situation.”
In April, the CIA said a survey of its members – UK chemicals and pharmaceuticals firms – could not find a single member that thought leaving the EU would be in the best interest of their business. The responses from members “underline the criticality” of the EU market place to the sector’s 500,000 jobs, investment and growth, Elliott said, noting that a vote to leave would imperil the sector’s position as the UK’s largest net export earner. 60% of the sectors’ income is from exports to the EU. Trade credit insurance firm Euler Hermes warned in February that the UK chemicals sector stood to lose as much as £7bn/y in exports if the country voted to leave.
“This morning I am calling on the government to work hard on securing the best exit plan for the UK and then establishing the new trading arrangements. Whilst we need to progress both these negotiations as soon as we can to limit uncertainty, we also need an immediate period of calm reflection to minimise instability,” Elliott said this morning.
The urgency for calm was echoed by Terry Scuoler, CEO of the EEF: “Ministers must think carefully about our negotiating position while setting out a clear roadmap for establishing a new deal with the EU which remains our biggest market and trading partner.”
“We need a clear vision for a new relationship between the UK and the EU, but we must also avoid throwing the baby out with the bath water. In the complex task of unpicking the UK from EU regulation and legislation, the government must tread carefully, keeping if we can a trading relationship with the single market, avoiding dramatic overnight changes and not becoming bogged down to the detriment of making long-awaited and much-needed decisions on projects vital to our future economic prosperity. We must also ensure that the skilled workers we need are still encouraged and enabled to live and work in the UK.”
Scuoler’s concerns that the government might rush to trigger the so-called Article 50 that would set running a two-year clock to negotiate its exit from the EU were appeased by UK prime minister David Cameron who announced he would stand down and the formal announcement delayed until a new leader was selected at the Conservative Party conference in October.
IChemE’s reaction to the decision has focussed on the need for community cohesion.
'The impact of UK withdrawal from the European Union on the process industries, higher education and the research community is far from certain,” said communications director Andy Furlong. “IChemE will work closely with its partners in the UK STEM community to safeguard the interests of chemical engineers and the wider engineering community.”
IChemE CEO David Brown added: “The scientific and engineering community in the UK should press for continued participation in the EU's research and innovation programmes. Brexit need not and must not wreck cooperation with European partners in fields such as climate change and healthcare that engage thousands of chemical engineers across Europe.”
On the topic of funding for research, Royal Society president Venki Ramakrishnan said: “In the past, UK science has been well supported by EU funding. This has been an essential supplement to UK research funds. In the upcoming negotiations we must make sure that research, which is the bedrock of a sustainable economy, is not short changed, and the Government ensures that the overall funding level of science is maintained.
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