While our politicians are busy making a total hash of Brexit with the EU’s steely negotiators, those charged with managing companies across the UK are left trying to run their businesses on a commercial basis.
With all the uncertainty, it’s not easy and, faced with a political situation that’s changing constantly, we remain none the wiser about what lies ahead.
One of the most feared outcomes appears to be that Britain will leave the EU without a deal. However, from my perspective, running an engineering design, manufacturing and fabrication business servicing the Power sector, I’m not convinced that such a result would be so bad. Indeed, leaving without a deal could remove some of the handicaps under which we are currently forced to operate.
For example, we are bound by rules under our National Agreement – the ‘Blue Book’ – when it comes to how we treat our labour force; this covers rates of pay, lodging and travel allowances, pensions and health and safety. On top of that, we pay various levies for training and apprenticeship schemes – all additional costs which, when added together, mean that we are at a serious disadvantage when competing against foreign contractors.
We frequently find ourselves up against EU workers who come over in vans carrying their tools and a mattress in the back for accommodation. We also see our UK safety standards routinely flaunted on certain sites and double standards applied.
And then there is the question of quality. A lot of our work is replacing fabricated products that have been supplied from other parts of the world and which are already wearing out – repair work is ongoing because some of the the steel tubes are not lasting as long as they should.
The question is, will Brexit give us a more level playing field? A soft Brexit would still allow EU workers into the UK whereas a ‘no-deal’ with hard borders would make it harder because they would have to apply for visas to work in this country, and vice versa.
Ironically, the pound’s fall in value against the Euro since the Referendum two and a half years ago is helping us to be more competitive in the US market; we currently have more enquiries from North American power companies than from their European counterparts. President Trump’s steel tariff does not apply to engineering fabricators like UnitBirwelco which will also provide opportunities.
Whether we end up with a delayed Brexit, another vote or a ‘no deal’ Brexit, the current farce will eventually have to come to an end. We should not and cannot be bullied into accepting a deal that’s not right for us. From our standpoint, we have nothing to lose from a ‘no-deal’ outcome and maybe even something to gain. My own feeling is that we won’t see a deal until one minute to midnight on the final day. Only then will we know the challenge that lies ahead. But we’re used to that.