November 21, 2017 : Alison Cairns

Brexit: Regions discovering the grass isn’t always greener

At the weekend I picked up on the story of the Grimsby Seafood Trade having a meeting at Westminster demanding the area receieves Free Trade status after Brexit. It caught my eye because Grimsby was a town that overwhelmingly voted to leave the EU. Grimsby voted 70% to leave. Undoubtedly a huge number of the Grimsby Seafood Trade workforce and supply chain voted to leave.

The Grimsby Telegraph parliamentary correspondent Patrick Daly highlighted that the seafood processing industry is a sector which relies on the smooth flow of fresh imported produce from overseas for 90% of what it turns into plate-ready food, and benefits from the customs-light and free trade arrangements of the EU.

He argues that the impression was, whatever happened, there would still be demand for the industry’s produce, so it didn’t matter which way the Brexit vote fell. But if Grimsby’s seafood is no longer the freshest or is considerably more expensive, the worry is that it will be hard for the industry to continue to thrive in the way it has.

Clearly if the single market and customs union was such a good situation for business, why did the industry not make this clear during the referendum campaign?

The seafood trade is now realising that as it is the UK that is leaving, the EU’s duty and self-interest is to look after the French and German ports which will happily take over the volumes lost by Grimsby. How could such a colossal misunderstanding of how Grimsby’s future is so intrinsically linked to membership of the EU single market and customs union come about?

If you think this is one isolated example, think again. Tony Barber in the Financial Times highlights the situation in Grimsby, but also other regions who have made their way to Westminster to ask for no change to their status despite voting to leave the EU.

South Tyneside voted 62% in favour of Brexit. The local council wants ‘EU structural funds to be replaced, a continued free flow of skilled people and frictionless, barrier-free trade’. Iain Malcolm, the council leader, who supported staying in the EU, said: “The north-east’s unique regional profile means that we have specific needs and aspirations which are different from the rest of the country.”

More than half of those who voted in Cornwall (56.5%) opted for Brexit. Local council leader Adam Paynter has said many Cornish industries are “already feeling the pinch, with some of our crops rotting in the fields, following a sharp fall in the number of EU workers.”

A whopping 69.4% of those polled in Stoke-on-Trent wanted out of the European Union. Stoke and its environs are historic centres of the ceramics industry. The British Ceramic Confederation is pressing for barrier-free trade with the EU and protection against ‘Chinese dumping’. Local politicians protest that the government did not include the ceramics industry in its list of sectors selected for Brexit impact assessments.

This is a perfect illustration of ‘turkeys voting for Christmas’. Workers in various parts of the UK clearly believed, and were told by those campaigning to leave, that life was tough because of the EU and migrants and that the grass would be greener outside the EU. But now there is backtracking in Grimsby, Cornwall, West Midlands, Northern Ireland, Scotland and so on…

Barber believes it is an attitude of wanting our cake and eating it, and this was reflected in how UK governments behaved within EU membership. I agree with this analysis but what now?

To carry on regardless is an abuse of power. A government cannot be allowed to keep going despite all the warning signs. Those in power are clearly too embarrassed to turn back and admit defeat. People will look back and say what was everyone else doing?! Why did nobody stop them?

Important: Opinions expressed by bloggers are their own and don't represent those of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.

by Alison Cairns