UK Ceramics Industry Needs More Than Platitudes From The Prime Minister

Despite the prevarication over Hinckley Point, Ms May’s Government has done nothing to revisit George Osborne’s love affair with China, and the new Chancellor of the Exchequer has even suggested a fast free-trade agreement with the People’s Republic. This is deeply concerning, as such a deal would likely render trade defence measures meaningless and invite further dumping of Chinese ceramics, along with steel and other products where they have over-capacity. Trade defence is not about protectionism, it is about a level playing field for UK manufacturers facing protectionist dumping. After the UK leaves the EU, British manufacturers cannot be left vulnerable.

MPs of all sides have pushed the Prime Minister for regular updates on the Brexit negotiation process, and so far we have been told simply that the Government will not provide a ‘running commentary’ that would weaken their negotiating position. I fear that this is both a nonsense, and the exact opposite of what business wants to hear. The Government are deliberately trying to suggest that receiving such regular updates is a method for MPs to ignore the clear will of the British people expressed in the EU referendum, whereas in reality they are obfuscating and preventing elected representatives from fulfilling their role in holding them to account. When businesses in my constituency ask me how Brexit is likely to impact on their futures, I need to be able to tell them more than “wait and see”.

Which is why I wanted to use my question to give Theresa May the opportunity to put some of these concerns to rest. Ceramics cannot be treated simply as part of the economy as a whole, because it has its own challenges and concerns, not least those around access to Europe as a market and on trade defence. EU membership undoubtedly provides a good business environment for UK ceramic manufacturers; it is therefore not too much for them to ask how, after leaving the EU, their export markets and level playing field on international trade will be maintained.

The ceramic industry is a microcosm of the economy as a whole, each of which face their own unique combination of post-Brexit challenges. It should go without saying that uncertainty and vagaries from the Government reduce business confidence that the eventual outcome from negotiations will be anything but negative. I was pleased that Theresa May welcomed the renaissance in the pottery sector, but future success in all areas of industry will require more than blasé platitudes and unconvincing reassurances that everything will work out fine in the end.

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