Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

“Don’t panic” is the advice to car workers from Len McCluskey, the Unite union general secretary, as Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt step up their Brexit No Deal preparations, amid further evidence of the precarious nature of the British automotive industry.

In response to questioning on the Andrew Marr Show (30.6.2019) about warnings that jobs and investment in the car industry could take a 20 per cent hit in the event of the UK leaving the EU without an agreement on October 30, Mr McCluskey insisted six times that there was no need for car workers to panic.

But when Marr pointed to a YouGov opinion poll of trade union members that showed that 65 per cent of Unite members wanted to remain, Mr McCluskey denied that was the case.

He said the union, the largest in manufacturing, talked constantly to 20,000 Unite members across all sectors. None of the union’s 300 constitutional committees were seeking a second referendum and that had been reinforced when 100 convenors from top manufacturing companies met in March.

At that point Marr failed to point out to McCluskey the long list of closures and lost investment that have been announced in the three months since he last consulted Unite convenors in the automotive industry:

  • May 1 – Jaguar Land Rover to switch next generation of its Land Rover Defender to production in Slovakia (I 5.2019)
  • May 14 – Honda confirms closure of its Swindon plant in 2021 with loss of 3,500 jobs (City AM5.2019)
  • May 14 – Ford cuts 550 jobs at Dunton, Essex (The Times, 14.5.2019)
  • June 7 – Ford to close its Bridgend engine plant with loss of 1,700 job (Metro6.2019)
  • PSA group says new Vauxhall Astra to be built at Ellesmere Port plant only if UK avoids a No Deal Brexit. (The Guardian, 28.6.2019)

Ford’s decision to close its Bridgend plant took the total of jobs to be lost in the car industry to 10,000 so far this year with up to 50,000 more at risk in the supply chain.

The YouGov poll – which McCluskey derided as “absolute nonsense” – was based on the views of 1,813 union members (355 Unite) consulted between June 20 and 23 and it showed that 65 per cent wanted the UK to remain in the EU.

McCluskey questioned whether the 355 said to be Unite members were in his union – “they self-identified as Unite members, I don’t know that they are”.

He urged Unite and Labour Party members to stay calm and assured them that Jeremy Corbyn was demonstrating “real leadership”.

Unite stood for “a Labour victory above everything else” and Labour’s objective was to win a general election and then negotiate “a proper deal” to leave the EU that would “protect jobs and investment”.

“A customs union, customs arrangements, which are so important in terms of investment for our nation, that is the type of deal that I’d be comfortable to see go through.”

Decisions on future party strategy would be taken at Labour’s annual party conference at the end of the September.

“Jeremy Corbyn is the only person who’s speaking for the whole nation...And our alternative is to get a Brexit that respects the result of the referendum but actually does so with an agreement that the 48 per cent who want to remain will be happy with.

“He’s consulting with the trade unions, he’s consulting with members, he’s consulting with the NEC, and then we’ll have a proper debate. There’s no panic at the moment...There is no panic to do anything. We’ve got a policy conference coming up in less than 12 weeks.”

Illustrations: The Guardian, 30.6.2018; I 28.6.2019; I 1.5.2019.