Brexit and UK Manufacturing – how will we fare?

The word “Brexit” rolls off the tongue – but how would rolling out of Europe impact upon the UK economy and more specifically UK manufacturing? With the date set for the referendum as 23 June 2016, the time to vote is hurtling towards us at neck-breaking speed (in a similar fashion to the HS2 once completed).

Put aside your opinions on the social aspects of the UK’s membership to one of the largest confederations of nations; how would leaving Europe affect our historically-strong manufacturing industry?

Sitting within the manufacturing & engineering team at Capita TI, I can’t help but wonder what impact the referendum will have on both the manufacturing industry and the translation industry. Our industry helps UK companies to make the most of international trade agreements and deals through effective communication in our customers’ native languages.

Will UK trade suffer as a result of Brexit?

The EU is currently Britain’s biggest trade partner, accounting for over 50% of the UK’s exports. If we also include countries that the UK trades with through their open agreements with the EU, then this rises to 63% of our annual exports. Would leaving the EU mean jeopardising this crutch? Potentially. The good news is that under the Lisbon treaty, any nation leaving the EU has 2 years in which to negotiate a withdrawal agreement including trade agreements. The bad news is that trade deals take an excruciatingly long time to negotiate – in 2009 the EU ended a 15-year dispute with Latin American countries over importing bananas! But, being such a big trade partner to the EU means they are more likely to want to agree a deal quicker.

The EU currently has 23% of world GDP, the UK only has 3.5%. How would this affect our leverage when negotiating new trade deals with new partners?

Are we better off as part of a larger but slower, more cumbersome EU or a smaller, but more niche and agile UK, allowing us to negotiate more, quicker but potentially smaller deals alone?

How would the end of free movement impact the UK?

Big names in business have thrown their weight behind the “staying in” campaign, citing an end to free movement of people in and out of the UK having a detrimental effect on skilled labour required to complete highly technical jobs, and UK citizens being able to work abroad to complete lucrative contracts. In the short term, this is certainly true. The UK has an ever-growing skills gap in the supply and demand of a home grown skilled labour force and cutting the lifeblood would make things difficult.

How would Brexit affect the language services industry?

As I sit here in an office with an incredibly high proportion of foreign-born employees, due to the nature of the business, I can’t help but wonder how the end to free movement would affect mine and my colleagues’ lives.

The jobs that we complete cannot be done only by UK born citizens; translations must be completed by native speakers of the target language, and the same applies to document formatting, interpreting and website SEO.  But surely, asphyxiation of skilled labour in the short term through an end to free labour movement would mean that the UK education system would be forced to train staff to meet a shortage?

David Cameron has vowed to fight the UK’s corner, whatever the outcome of the forthcoming referendum is. The only thing that is for certain is that there is definitely change coming across all walks of life, all industries and all professions in the UK – let’s sit back and enjoy the ride!

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