Marlborough.news has steered clear of the Brexit debate – a largely national and for now, some would say, even a Westminster and Whitehall matter. We are not going to make a habit of reporting on Brexit pros and process or cons and constraints.
But we will keep a watch out for some of the less visible Brexit issues that may affect people in our area. Here, in brief, are three: Honda’s future in Swindon, the free movement of horses and policies towards the disabled…
HONDA – A MAJOR PART OF SWINDON’s ECONOMY:
Last year the Japanese Government addressed an extraordinary letter to Britain about the country’s investments in Britain and the EU and the possible consequences of Brexit. Japanese companies employ an estimated 140,000 people in the UK and invest here to get access to the huge potential of the EU’s single market and customs union.
In February 2016 Nissan said it may adjust its UK business depending on how Brexit turned out. Later that year Mrs May gave some secret assurances to Nissan about their investment in Sunderland.
Last Tuesday (November 14), Honda appeared before the House of Commons’ business select committee and gave unprecedented – even commercially sensitive – details about their business model and how Brexit could affect it.
Honda’s Swindon workforce is between 3,500 and 4,000, but it supports directly and indirectly a total of 20-25,000 full and part time jobs in the area – two of its biggest parts suppliers have factories in the town.
Honda revealed to the cross-party committee that it relies on 350 lorries a day arriving at its Swindon plant with parts from Europe to keep its production lines moving. Forty per cent of Honda parts are sourced in Europe and it operates with one hour’s worth of parts on the production line.
This means that even minor delays at the ports for post-Brexit customs checks could unravel their way of manufacturing vehicles and force them to find new procedures and warehouses.
One Honda executive told the committee: “Outside the customs union there is no such thing as a frictionless border. I wouldn’t say the just-in-time manufacturing model wouldn’t work, but it would certainly be very challenging.”
If the UK ended up with no trade agreement with the EU and had to fall back on World Trade Organisation (WTO) tariffs it would add ten per cent to a finished vehicle – and 4.5 per cent on parts imported from the EU for the Swindon factory.
The committee also learned that every 15 minutes delay at customs would cost some manufacturers up to £850,000 a year. Motor manufacturers also fear the end to EU recognition of UK regulatory approval for vehicles – which covers safety, pollution and other factors, which could all alter the amount Honda exports to EU countries. At the moment a third of the 690 Honda cars produced each day in Swindon are sold in other EU countries.
Honda added to their list of post-Brexit issues to be sorted out, the doubts over the future status of EU workers in Britain. Fourteen per cent of their Swindon workforce and thirty per cent of their European HQ in Bracknell are from other EU countries.
It would be disastrous for the whole area surrounding Swindon if Honda decided to move its manufacturing base away from Britain – or even to cut back on its investment here.
FREE MOVEMENT OF HORSES
At present there is free movement of horses from Britain to Europe. This is a boon for the Marlborough area’s racehorse trainers (mainly flat – but also jumps horses to and from Ireland), show jumpers, dressage specialists and eventers. From this area the likes of eventers Andrew Nicholson, Jonelle and Tim Price, and Sir Mark Todd compete regularly in Ireland and continental Europe.
With Brexit the current EU agreement on free, unhindered travel for horses will end. This is because the original tripartite agreement (Ireland, France and the UK) became part of EU legislation – so its rules will no longer apply to Britain after Brexit. As the chairman of the Thoroughbred Breeders Association, Julian Richmond-Watson, puts it ‘a Plan B needs to be explored more fully’.
The fall back would be WTO rules. The WTO imposes no tariffs on pedigree breeding livestock. Could that possibly mean British based geldings simply having to stay at home – unable to race in Ireland and continental Europe?
Any changes must reflect continuing attention to the welfare of horses. Long waits in customs sheds are not an option.
Negotiations over future rules may be complicated by the decision of the French racing authority – France Galop – to require that all horses racing in France from 1 January 2018 must have been vaccinated against the equine herpes virus. This is costly, supplies of the best vaccine are low and many trainers dislike the alternative vaccine, with which some of them have had ‘bad experiences’.
It is, of course, not yet certain whether visas and so on will be needed by British jockeys who race in continental Europe and Ireland – and even, perhaps, vice versa.
Professional jockey Hayley Turner has recently come out of retirement, paused her career as a pundit for ITV Racing and moved to France where she is riding with the advantage of a weight allowance given by France Galop to female jockeys.
That is the sort of enterprising attitude in the equestrian sports that may be stalled or complicated by Brexit.
Finally – and left to last because it is neither as specific or as clear cut as the first two issues – is Britain’s legislation on disability rights. The EU and its bureaucrats were instrumental in getting the 2006 Convention on rights for the disabled onto the EU’s statute books.
The next EU disability strategy will come into force in 2020 – most probably after Britain has left the EU.
British governments (plural) have been sharply criticised for not living up to the EU Convention’s requirements as the British Parliament has applied them to people living in Britain with disabilities.
Will the British government – kept busy on formulating new rules about everything from farming to medicines and the movement of horses – live up to the terms of the new European regulations – in spirit and in detail?
Or will Brexit – when Parliament is sovereign and can act without reference to Brussels’ edicts – be an excuse to ignore what is happening in the EU and weaken British regulations and the rights of those with disabilities? It is an issue to watch.